Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Questions (8)

Martin Heydon


8. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when successful projects under the 2019 regional enterprise development fund will be announced; if shovel ready projects will be prioritised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41114/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

When does the Minister expect to be in a position to make announcements about the 2019 regional enterprise development fund? Will shovel-ready projects be prioritised? The Minister will be aware of the importance I place on the very exciting project that we are developing in Kildare, the Athy food, drinks and skills hub. The Minister came to visit the launch at the Athy Model School. It is a co-working zone, a flagship project for the County Kildare Community Network and a very exciting project for south Kildare.

My Department's regional enterprise development fund, REDF, is a competitive fund. It has been introduced to co-finance the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative enterprise projects that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the regions to help to sustain and add to employment at county, regional and national level. The scheme is also aimed at supporting the development of initiatives that help to strengthen the capacity of regions to adjust and cope with the potential effects of external economic changes that may impact on a region's or sector's performance. The fund, administered on my Department's behalf by Enterprise Ireland, complements in particular the work underway by regional stakeholders all around the country in the implementation of my Department's regional enterprise plans, and more generally, the objectives of Future Jobs Ireland and Project Ireland 2040.

Under the REDF to date, just less than €60 million in total funding has been approved across 42 collaborative projects over two completed calls in 2017 and 2018. Projects have been supported in every region. On 24 June 2019, I announced a further call of €45 million, which is call 3 of the regional enterprise development fund. This call continues to support the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative projects. The third call closed on 25 September 2019 and I intend for the successful projects to be announced before the end of the year. As part of the competitive evaluation of projects, proposals that are ready to be implemented will be prioritised. Call 3 of the REDF has sought projects under three streams: strategic change projects capable of attracting funding of up to €5 million; smaller scale regional strengthening projects that may attract from €100,000 to €500,000; and industry-led enterprise clustering initiatives that can attract funding of €50,000 to €350,000.

I thank the Minister for her reply. It is good to know that there will be a decision on the fund by the end of the year. Obviously, I will make my pitch for Athy. The Minister has been in south Kildare several times. The first time she came to see the employment challenges we face was when we had the negative news of Coca-Cola pulling out of Athy. County Kildare Community Network, with the support of Coca-Cola which wanted to leave behind a lasting legacy in Athy, have put a €500,000 commitment towards this project. It will address the employment void in the area and the lack of food incubation space in the county. The development of the Athy food skills hub has been done in collaboration with Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, Maynooth University and the Institute of Technology, Carlow. We want to address issues of youth and long-term unemployment in the area, as well as supporting interns to stay and work in the area, industry employees in need of upskilling and the farming community. South Kildare has a vibrant and strong rural community, which wants to add value to its agrifood product. We have the AgTech fund for entrepreneurs, as well as Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland clients wishing to relocate to the area, along with commuters, because it is an accessible part of the country. These are key benefits of this project for the area.

I was delighted to visit Athy with the Deputy several months ago. Prior to that, I was there at the time, unfortunately, the Coca-Cola plant reduced its staff there.

I was down there recently for the launch of the Athy food hub project. I saw at first hand the plans to convert the historical old model school building into a food innovation hub. It is a great project supported by Kildare County Council. I know Coca-Cola has made a significant financial contribution towards the project. It will be a fantastic asset for Athy. It is exactly the sort of project the Government should support. It will bring a historic landmark building back into productive use. The Athy project is ready to go. As part of the scheme's criteria, I specifically asked Enterprise Ireland, which will assess these projects, to prioritise shovel-ready projects. It is a competitive process and Enterprise Ireland will assess all the applications. I plan to make announcements at the end of the year.

I am glad the Minister recognises this project is shovel-ready. We are ready to spend any money the Government can give us in south Kildare. The model school and Athy food hub project is an exciting project in that regard.

I acknowledge the role played by Kildare County Council by putting €2.5 million of its own money, as well as gifting the building of the model school. It needs much work but it is a fantastic process. Jacqui McNabb in the Kildare local enterprise office has done huge work on this application. It has identified 60 zones to be strategic economic drivers for our area.

Driver No. 1 is a skills hub with a 16-station learning and demonstration kitchen to be completed as part of a learning and nurturing environment. A key component of the mid-east regional plan is that it involves the likes of the Boyne Valley food hub for collaboration and its expertise. Driver No. 2 is the timeshare incubator kitchen for culinary entrepreneurs in the area. Driver No. 3 is high specification food production units and commercial kitchens. We have the AgTech start-up accelerator hub for entrepreneurs in the area. This draws on the good local rural area. There will be a co-working zone and a community food discovery centre employing business development managers and food specialists. This is an exciting project which I hope we can support.

Much work is going on in Kildare County Council. Jacqui McNabb in the Kildare local enterprise office is supportive of this project and has done much work on it. What is good about this project is collaboration. That is what we are trying to encourage across the country. It is collaboration between the local enterprise office, the local education providers, the local authorities and industry. When that comes together, that strengthens these kinds of applications.

I never saw a good application yet that did not get funding. This is independently assessed by experts in Enterprise Ireland. I will be announcing them by the end of the year.

Given the record in the mid-east for funding, I am sure south Kildare will do well again. It got €3.497 million in the past two rounds, while the Boyne Valley food innovation district got €1.5 million.