The Government has a new plan - Future Jobs Ireland - to ensure we are preparing now for the jobs of the future. While the economy is performing well with strong employment and unemployment now down to 4.4%, we cannot be complacent. In the past we took success for granted and failed to prepare for emerging challenges, trends and opportunities. To achieve this, we must ensure our economy is well positioned to adapt to a low-carbon future and a revolution in digitalisation and automation.
We must tackle lower productivity levels in indigenous firms as the best way to achieve sustainable wage growth. We are known now for our strong talent pool but we must ensure our skills evolve as the economy changes. And we need to increase labour market participation.
Growing the indigenous enterprise sector and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) are both key to Ireland’s continued economic recovery. Enterprise Ireland’s results for 2018 show there were 215,207 people employed by Enterprise Ireland supported companies in 2018, the highest total employment in the history of the agency and exports also reached a new record of €23.8 billion.
It is my priority to see more jobs created in the regions. The Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) is a competitive fund complementary to the Regional Enterprise Plans. In 2017 and 2018, I announced funding for 42 projects as part of Calls 1 and 2 of the REDF worth a total of almost €60m, with projects supported in every region. I announced a Third REDF call earlier this week with a fund of €45m to deliver on our ambitions in Future Jobs Ireland and to build Brexit resilience in the regions.
The 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are located in every county and provide a range of supports for the micro and small business sector. The LEOs act as the “first-stop-shop” for providing advice and guidance, financial assistance and other supports to those wishing to start or grow their own business. I increased funding for the LEOs by 22% in 2019 and this increase is being used to assist micro-enterprises in becoming more competitive and to build resilience against Brexit. The LEOs are supporting over 36,000 jobs in 7,000 small Irish businesses and significantly in 2018 171 LEO clients were transferred to Enterprise Ireland for further growth and investment. Future Jobs Ireland has a commitment to examine how best to further strengthen the capacity of the LEOs.
I also recently announced the second call of the pilot Online Retail Scheme which has been open for applications since 19 June 2019 from Irish owned retail businesses with a physical retail outlet.