My Department along with the enterprise agencies are deeply engaged in the enterprise development agenda in the Midlands. The importance of this enterprise development work has been brought into sharp focus in the context of the particular vulnerability, and the opportunities, presented by the transition from ‘brown to green’ in this region.
The Midlands was hit relatively hard by the recession, which affected all regions, but like the rest of the country has made a very strong recovery. The unemployment rate in the Midlands currently stands at 6.1 percent (compared to the State average of 5.2 percent at end Q3 2019). This is a vast improvement on the position at the beginning of 2015 when unemployment stood at 14.9 percent. Since Q1 2015 23,300 jobs were created in the Midlands region.
The IDA supports 42 client companies in the Midlands, employing 5,720 people. The region was the highest performing region from a job creation perspective across the IDA regional portfolio in 2018, with FDI employment growing by 13 percent or 701 net new jobs added.
Over 12,300 people are employed in 247 Enterprise Ireland supported companies in the Midlands, which is up by 4 percent in 2018. LEO supported micro-enterprises added 271 net new jobs across the Midlands during 2018.
The Midlands faces a new challenge however, which will require renewed efforts to grow alternative sources of employment. The enterprise agencies, LEOs and other development bodies are fully engaged and are focused on leveraging the key strengths and potential areas of opportunity. My Department also has close engagement with the Department of the Taoiseach in relation to Just Transition and the Midlands.
The Midlands Regional Enterprise Plan, which I launched earlier this year, and the Steering Committee in place to drive its implementation, has a key role to play. The Midlands Plan, which covers Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath, is one of nine ‘bottom-up’ enterprise focused regional plans that leverage collaborative regional action.
The Midlands Plan sets out seven Strategic Objectives agreed by stakeholders as priority areas of focus and enterprise growth to 2020, spanning areas such as: transition to a low carbon economy; big data opportunities; advanced manufacturing; place-making and marketing; tourism; food; and skills development.
Strategic Objective 1 of the Regional Enterprise Plan aims to ‘ensure that the Midlands is well positioned to address the challenges posed by the transition to a low carbon economy and renewable energy’. The Regional Enterprise Plan for the Midlands therefore strongly aligned with and supportive of the work of the Regional Transition Team led by Offaly Co. Council. My Department officials and agencies will continue to work with stakeholders in the region during this challenging period.