In April 2018, I asked all the Regional Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committees to start a process to refresh and refocus all Regional Plans to ensure their relevance and impact out to 2020, so that they continue to deliver jobs across the country, in every region, and can be robust to address the challenges we face, including Brexit.
The outcome of this refresh process is nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, which build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. I am currently in the process of launching the new Plans, with eight Plans launched to date.
Shaped from the ‘bottom-up’ by regional stakeholders, and overseen by my Department, the new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020 complement national level policies and programmes emanating from the ‘top-down’ and, there is strong alignment with Ireland’s national enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025 Renewed and the forthcoming Future Jobs Ireland initiative.
They are two-year, focused Plans, which are also ‘live’ documents, so new initiatives can be adopted during their operation by the regional stakeholders working together.
The principle behind the Regional Enterprise Plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region’s enterprise development potential. These stakeholders include: the Local Authorities, the LEOs, the enterprise agencies, the Regional Skills Forum, tourism bodies, private sector ‘enterprise champions’, and others.
I launched the new Regional Enterprise Plan for the Mid-West region, which covers Clare, Limerick and Tipperary, on the 20th February at the Irish Bioeconomy Foundation site at Lisheen, Co. Tipperary.
The Regional Enterprise Plan for the Mid-West is focused around six ‘Strategic Objectives’ and each of the six Objectives involves a focus on Co. Limerick as part of the Mid-West region; as follows:
1. Enable a digital and innovation economy and make the Mid-West Ireland’s leading smart city-region;
2. Achieve a step-change in progress toward a low carbon economy in the Mid-West;
3. Continue to develop workforce skills and talent and enhance the attractiveness of living and working in the Mid-West;
4. Develop the region's capacity to deliver economic growth;
5. Build a coordinated regional messaging brand for consistent communication.
Initiatives to be pursued under the Plan's Objectives of particular significance for Limerick City and County include; the development of an Autonomous Mobility Testbed; the positioning of Limerick/Mid-West as a national centre for advanced manufacturing; and the development of a Sports Tech cluster - building on the initial study by Limerick City and Co. Council.
The Strategic Objectives and actions in the Mid-West Plan are set out alongside the Enterprise Agencies’ (Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland) and the LEOs’ core activities in Co. Limerick and the wider region. In this way the new Plans add value and support the work of the Agencies on the ground in the Mid-West, through a collaborative approach.
It is encouraging that the unemployment rate in the Mid-West region, which includes Co. Limerick (along with Clare and Tipperary) has reduced from 12 percent in Q1 2015 to 5.6 percent in Q4 2018, just above the unemployment rate for the State as a whole.
The focus for Co. Limerick and the Mid-West over the period to 2020 under the new Regional Enterprise Plan will be to maintain an emphasis on employment growth, aiming to outperform the rate of growth achieved since 2015 to date and to ensure that sustainable, quality jobs are created and maintained the region. The collaborative strategic objectives and actions in this Plan, along with the core activities of the various Agencies and Bodies involved in supporting enterprise development over the coming two-year period will support this.
Finally, it is important to note that the Government has put several funding streams in place to support regional development, and the Mid-West has seen many successes through these ongoing initiatives. They include my Department’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund; the Rural and Urban Regeneration and Development Funds under Project Ireland 2040; and the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.
Under the €60 million competitive Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), the Mid-West region has secured total funding of over €9.5 million to date under the two completed Calls - three of these projects are of direct relevance to Co. Limerick: the Emerald Aerocluster CLG which is a cluster of indigenous manufacturing companies in the aerospace sector, was awarded €250,000; the BNest Social Initiative DAC which is an initiative that will assist businesses seeking social impact to achieve viability and scale through various development programmes received over €600,000; and Innovate Limerick/Hospital Food Units DAC received almost €2.3 million to establish a Digital Collaboration Centre in Limerick City.
Guided by this new Regional Enterprise Plan, the region and Co. Limerick is well positioned to build on this success and to continue to see the benefits and results of collaborative and innovative initiatives that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the region.