Since becoming Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I have made jobs and enterprise in the regions my top priority.
The Regional Action Plan for Jobs initiative is a central pillar of the Government’s ambition to create 200,000 new jobs by 2020, 135,000 of which are outside of Dublin. A key objective of each of the 8 regional plans is to have a further 10 to 15 per cent at work in each region by 2020, with the unemployment rate of each region not more than one percentage point greater than the national average.
The North-East/North-West Regional Action Plan for Jobs has been a key policy response for supporting employment growth in the Border region. Local Authorities, enterprise agencies, and other key public and private sector stakeholders across counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth have been strongly involved in, and are key drivers of, the NE/NW Action Plan.
The core objective of the NE/NW Action Plan is to have a further 28,000 at work in the region by 2020. In terms of impact, 12,000 more people are in employment in the Border region from Q1 2015 (baseline year) to Q2 2017, representing good progress towards the target of 28,000 jobs by 2020 as set out in the Regional Action Plan.
Achievements in the North West under the Action Plan since 2015 include Bord Iascaigh Mhara developing a virtual R&D centre to link research institutes with the seafood sector; the award of INTERREG funding to the North West Greenways Network, and the selection of 12 participants from the North West for Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme in 2017.
In December last year I announced €30.5 million in funding to support enterprise capability in the regions, with 21 projects from all over the country receiving funding. This Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) totalling €60 million is being rolled out by Enterprise Ireland over the next 4 years to support collaborative and innovative projects that can sustain and add to employment at a national, regional and county level. On Monday 16th April last I launched the second Call under the fund, making available the remainder of the €60 million.
Three projects from the Border region were successful under Call 1 of the Fund collectively securing over €2 million : a network of three Digital and Innovation Hubs (incl. in Co. Leitrim); a new Digital Innovation Hub and enterprise capacity building programme in Co. Donegal; and a Regional Food Centre of Excellence in Co. Monaghan.
The enterprise agencies continue their work to contribute towards the ambitious targets set out in the Regional Action Plan. Enterprise Ireland recently announced a 4% employment growth in its client companies for the Border region, which now employ almost 11,500 people. On the FDI front, the number of IDA-backed jobs grew by 4% as a whole last year, with almost 12,500 people employed in IDA companies in the region.
Through partnership between Enterprise Ireland and the Local Authorities, the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) have supported 586 companies in the North West with 2,616 employees and last year LEO client companies in the North West added 190 new employees in total.
Building on the progress and momentum of collaboration achieved to date through the Regional Action Plans is my priority. On Monday the 16th April last I met with the Chairs of the Regional APJ committees and other regional stakeholders, and together we have started a process to refresh and refocus all the Regional Plans to ensure their relevance and impact out to 2020. I look forward to working further with the regional stakeholders in the North-West to ensure we deliver to the employment targets for 2020 set out under the Regional Plans.