Western Development Commission announces €300,000 to support enterprise hubs to reopen along the Atlantic Economic Corridor

The Western Development Commission has announced an investment of 300,000 for enterprise hubs along the Atlantic Economic Corridor to help them implement measures to reopen in compliance with public health guidelines as the economy recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

The investment will be made by the Department of Rural and Community Development as part of the Atlantic Economic Corridor Enterprise Hub Network project.  Funding of up to €5,000 will be provided in grant aid to successful applicants.

CEO of The Western Development Commission, Tomás Ó Síocháin, said:

“This support will allow the hubs to reopen and provide facilities for workers to work remotely in fully equipped office settings.  WDC research, carried out in conjunction with NUIG, has identified immediate challenges to working from home, and the AEC enterprise hubs can help address those challenges.  The hubs can play a critical role in rural and regional areas, allowing skilled workers to work close to where they live, driving sustainable economic activity and building communities.”

Hub managers along the AEC region were invited to join a webinar on Tuesday 30th June – ‘A Practical Guide to Reopening your hub.’  You can watch back the event HERE.

Any hub owner or manager looking to apply for the support should contact their AEC county officer. A full list is available HERE.

Coronavirus: The towns most economically at risk

Having been considered one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union in recent years, the Irish economic landscape has profoundly changed due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

As per the latest estimates from the Department of Finance, the Irish economy is now projected to decline by 10.5 per cent this year, unemployment is expected to rise to 22 per cent by the second quarter of 2020, while the public finances are expected to record a deficit of around €23 billion.

While it is clear that the Covid-19 outbreak will have a significant impact on Ireland’s economy, the degree to which this impact will be felt across Ireland’s regions, counties, cities and towns remains to be seen.

On this basis, the three Regional Assemblies of Ireland have prepared a “COVID-19 Regional Economic Analysis” to identify which geographical areas in Ireland are more likely to be exposed to economic disruption caused by the necessary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Using the GeoDirectory commercial database, and specifically the NACE codes allocated to commercial units2 as of September 2019, the three Regional Assemblies of Ireland have identified each geographical area’s reliance on the sectors that are likely to be severely affected by the public health measures needed to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Cathaoirleach for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly, Cllr Declan McDonnell acknowledged that out of the three regions, the Northern and Western region had the highest “COVID-19 Exposure Ratio”, with 48.6 per cent of its commercial units operating in the worst affected sectors; all of whom are likely to be severely impacted from this crisis.

To read the report see here


A recent survey by researchers from the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission (WDC) has shown that 83% expressed interest in continuing to work remotely. Over half of those surveyed (51%) had never worked remotely before the Covid-19 pandemic. Of those who had never worked remotely, 78% would like to work remotely for some or all of the time after the crisis is over.

The survey was led by Professor Alma McCarthy, Professor Alan Ahearne and Dr Katerina Bohle-Carbonell at NUI Galway, and Tomás Ó Síocháin and Deirdre Frost at WDC. These are the initial findings from the national survey of 7,241 individuals across a wide range of industries and sectors over a one-week week period in April-May 2020.

The top three challenges of working remotely included: Not being able to switch off from work; harder to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and co-workers; and poor physical workspace. The top three benefits of working remotely included: no traffic and no commute; reduced costs of going to work and commuting; and greater flexibility as to how to manage the working day.

The challenge of juggling childcare with work commitments was cited as a key issue in the open-ended comments received. The provision of better ergonomic equipment is one of the key changes suggested by employees to help with their well-being and productivity while working remotely. Many also report the need for more suitable workspace within their home and just under 1-in-5 (19%) identified internet connectivity as an issue.

In relation to current levels of productivity, 37% of respondents indicated that their productivity working remotely during COVID-19 is about the same as normal and 30% report that their productivity is higher than normal. 25% report that their productivity is lower than normal and 9% of respondents indicate that it is impossible to compare productivity as the demand for products/services/business has changed.

The majority (83%) of the 7,241 respondents indicated that they would like to work remotely after the crisis is over. Of these:

— 12% indicated they would like to work remotely on a daily basis
— 42% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a week
— 29% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a month
— 16% indicated they do not want to continue working remotely.

The survey indicates that 87% of those surveyed across all counties in Ireland are now working remotely because of Covid-19.

Speaking about the national survey, Professor Alma McCarthy said: “The findings of our survey indicate that employee preferences to continue working remotely will facilitate the opening up phase and aid with social distancing. The future of work post-COVID-19 is really interesting. The vast majority of respondents want to continue to work remotely when the crisis is over. Many roles and jobs can be performed effectively remotely.

What is the benefit of long commutes to work and sitting in traffic if we can leverage technology at least some of the week to do our work? Productivity does not necessarily correlate with presence in the workplace. What we do is more important than where we do it for many roles. A mindset change is needed by managers and employers in terms of managing work remotely. The current crisis provides an opportunity for organisations and managers to rethink how we work.”

CEO of the Western Development Commission Tomás Ó Síocháin said: “While a significant majority (83%) want to continue working remotely to some degree post-COVID-19, the figure is higher in the West and Midlands. Just over half (51%) would like to work from their home, with the balance seeking a mix of home, a hub/work-sharing space and the office. The preference of working from home or close to home in a hub/work-sharing space will allow individuals a better balance of work and home and generate and sustain economic activity in rural and regional areas.”

Respondents suggest a number of key changes and improvements that their managers and employers should make regarding remote working at present:

— Provision of better and more ergonomic physical workspace including the provision of a good (ergonomic) chair, provision of a printer, and better screens.
— Better management of video-conference meetings
— Reduce expectations and workload to more realistic levels
— Regular communication and check-ins
— Ensure provision of well-being supports

More flexibility in terms of hours of work to cater for caring responsibilities at this time.
The initial survey report is publicly available www.whitakerinstitute.ie. The research team will be doing further analysis and more publications will be available on the websites in the future.

Surf’s up for centre of excellence in Sligo as tender issued

The country’s first surfing centre of excellence could be up and running next year after a tender was issued for its construction in Sligo. The Government announced in November 2018 that the new national surf centre would be located in Strandhill and would be a key centre for visitors looking to capitalise on some of Europe’s best waves while touring along the Atlantic Economic Corridor.

The National Surf Centre of Excellence would also feature an interpretive experience that would tell the story of surfing in Sligo and along the Atlantic coast, an area that, pre-Covid-19, had become increasingly popular with domestic and international surfers.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced funding of over €1m from Fáilte Ireland to Sligo County Council for the venture on Strandhill promenade.

“The site is an existing ‘brownfield site and includes an existing single storey ‘domestic’ building and associated structures to the rear. The site is owned by Sligo County Council. The existing buildings and structures are to be demolished as part of the contracted works. The site also includes the existing peace park and renewal of same also forms part of the contracted works.

“The works involve the construction of a new two-storey comprising a state-of-the-art modern national surf centre over two floors with associated siteworks. Works to include demolition of existing buildings and outbuildings to the rear of the existing building, the construction of a new two surf centre and associated site development works.”

The Surf Centre project was also awarded €615,000 from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund in 2018 and at the time, the Taoiseach said: “Strandhill is already a very popular destination thanks to its wonderful location, great beaches and of course its secret weapon, the waves that have become so popular with locals and visitors alike.

“I am delighted to be announcing this significant funding for the development of the new Strandhill Surf Centre, which I have no doubt will make this coastal town even more popular in the years ahead.”

Story by Noel barker for The Irish Examiner.

Images by GoStrandhill.com

Clare blacksmith forging ahead with protective screens

The Covid-19 health crisis has forced many small businesses to close, while others have had to adapt to survive. It’s particularly challenging for rural businesses. But an award-winning blacksmith in West Clare is now using his traditional skills to make protective screens for small shops and retailers.

Twenty-five-year old Conor Murray is the fifth generation of his family to trade as a blacksmith at his Kilkee forge, carrying on the skills of his forefathers stretching back to the 1800’s and started by his great, great grandfather, also named Connor Murray.

Conor would normally be busy with his iron craft business, combining his forging skills with those of industrial art and design to make bespoke metal sculptures for public parks, large open amenity areas, as well as garden furniture and stairways.

But the pandemic put a halt to demand for such work and he decided to see what needs and opportunities lay in his own rural community that he might meet during this crisis.

Conor was the Co Clare winner of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition last year, run by the Local Enterprise Offices or LEO’s.

He said he had noticed that plenty of big supermarkets and shops were being catered for in the supply of protective screens, but that the smaller stores were being left out.

“I decided to use the prize money I had won in the Entrepreneur competition to invest in some new 3D machinery which would allow me to make purpose built ‘sneeze screens’ which could be adapted to the needs of small shops and retailers,” he explained. 

And there has been a huge demand for his products from pharmacies, grocery shops and fast food outlets across Co Clare.

One of his customers is O’Gorman’s shop and service station in Kilkee.

Owner Anne O’Gorman said she wanted to get something to protect her family, her staff and customers.

“My husband had been sick, so he was vulnerable and I decided to ask Conor to come up with a protective screen that would fit in my store. He came up with a prototype which was exactly what I needed, but at the same time is designed in a way that it is not too intrusive, but very secure,” she said.

Padriac McElwee, who is attached to the Clare Local Enterprise Office says the coronavirus has made it very challenging for small local businesses to survive.

But he said Conor Murray was a good example of the adaptability of our entrepreneurs and how they can change their business models to meet the needs of their communities and at the same time survive economically beyond the pandemic.

He said LEO’s offer a number of supports, including mentoring to help businesses look dispassionately at what opportunities they can exploit.

In addition they are also providing a ‘continuity voucher’ which is effectively a consultancy service about how businesses can re open, what health and safety procedures they will need and how best to implement social distancing, and win customers back.

“We have a wide range of expert consultants available that can help businesses in these very challenging times, and assist them to rebuild as they get back to business,” he said.

University of Limerick works with hospital to create 100,000 face visors for COVID-19 fight

The Rapid Innovation Unit at UL, an SFI Confirm Centre funded 3D printing activity that works in collaboration with University Hospital Limerick, mobilised a team to innovate immediate solutions in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The unit has previous experience in rapid design and 3D printing of medical devices in response to clinical requests.

Following a request from Professor Paul Burke, Chief Academic Officer at UL Hospitals Group and Vice Dean of Health Sciences at UL, academics and clinicians at the Rapid Innovation Unit at UL worked to design and manufacture novel solutions where doctors had identified potential shortages of equipment should COVID-19 cases surge.

In less than two weeks, the team designed solutions to three critical clinical challenges facing clinicians due to the pandemic.

These include capacity to manufacture 100,000 face visors for HSE front-line staff, refinement of a shield concept to protect anaesthesiologists during patient intubation for ventilation, and design of adapters for respiratory technologies to undergo a clinical trial.

The design solutions will help to protect the health of front line staff and increase treatment capacities in the hospital system.

The first batch of visors were delivered to UHL this Thursday, while the shield box and adaptors are about to be put into practice. The face visors are in Limerick green and say ‘The Limerick Visor: Front Line Heroes’


“There has been a phenomenal collaborative effort to deliver these solutions in a very short timeframe,” explained Professor Leonard O’Sullivan, of UL’s School of Design and the Health Research Institute based at UL.

Professor O’Sullivan noted that brothers Aidan and Kevin O’Sullivan, research fellows at UL, had “pulled out all the stops to lead the team to deliver these rapid response solutions for the hospital.”

The collaboration between the Rapid Innovation Unit and the consultants was facilitated by the Health Sciences Academy, a partnership between UL, the UL Hospitals Group and the Mid-West Community Healthcare Organisation.

The HSA, based at the Clinical Education Research Centre at UHL, was established to strengthen links between practicing clinicians and researchers from the University.

The Rapid Innovation Unit worked with local companies on the manufacture of the visors, which will go straight into use on the front line of the COVID-19 fight and were warmly received by the team at the hospital.

Professor Paul Burke explained: “We have heard the World Health Organisation repeatedly stress the importance for governments, healthcare professionals, scientists and industry to act with speed in response to COVID-19.

“It is heartening to see our Health Science Academy being able to facilitate the Rapid Innovation Unit to work closely with our clinicians and local industry to do precisely that,” he added.

Regarding the face visors, Professor O’Sullivan explained the local companies had enabled capacity to manufacture up to 5,000 visors a day.

“The visors can be for multiple use but it is likely also be for single use given the current circumstances,” he explained.

The normal production time on a project like this would take months, but it was done in just nine days. This was accomplished through the local companies working very intensively together, Professor O’Sullivan said.

“We had a team of three consultants and three designers involved in daily brainstorming and design review meetings, which is something you don’t have except in a critical situations,” he explained.

“We went to the coalface to establish what the critical needs were and we delivered solutions. This had to be done as quickly as possible. The local industry partners worked tirelessly to meet the volume production requests,” said Professor O’Sullivan.

Mr Tony Moloney, Consultant Vascular Surgeon, UL Hospitals Group, said: “It seems like a long time ago but it was only on March 26 that the scientists and clinicians who form the Rapid Innovation Unit met for the first time on this. Everything we have ever done as a group has been done remotely in keeping with the COVID-19 guidelines.

“The Limerick companies involved have also been on those conference calls, out-of-hours and seven days a week, and I’m told what would normally take months from concept to production has been completed in a matter of days. Three of the four projects initiated are already complete. These are products that will protect healthcare workers and ensure they are there for their patients at this time,” he added.

This story was provided courtesy of Limerick.ie

Leading retail technology innovation from Claremorris

There are not too many indigenous companies operating in the West of Ireland who can count the dotcom bubble of the 1990s and the global financial crisis in 2007 among the challenges they have overcome during almost 40 years in existence – but retail technology firm CBE can do just that.

Indeed, CBE’s consistent success in the ever-changing world of retail payments technology suggests that this business situated at the heart of the Atlantic Economic Corridor is well placed to thrive for another 40 years.

Based in Claremorris, Co Mayo, CBE is one of Europe’s leading innovators in retail technology, serving the supermarket, convenience, forecourt and hospitality sectors. It has a staff of almost 150 people, having started out with just three in 1980.

“In the early days we were just buying third-party software from UK suppliers,” says Sean Kenna, chief executive of CBE. “But it didn’t fit all customer requirements, so we decided to set up our own software development company in 1995.”


CBE is now a one-stop shop for anything to do with retail technology. Every day, shoppers throughout the UK and Ireland routinely use their products when making purchases at cash registers, self-checkouts or card readers in local shops, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, hotels and a host of other outlets.


“We take on all the various areas around the technology of a retail unit – development of the software, supply of the hardware, project management, training, on-field support, consultancy and ongoing software support. We like to come in at the start and offer a complete partnership approach.”


The company employs 146 people between its offices in Ireland and the UK, with 70 percent of them based in head office in Claremorris. Recruitment of additional sales staff and software developers should see staff numbers rise to 150 soon.


Sean joined CBE as a sales rep in 1980 and was its managing director for 15 years before becoming CEO in late 2016 – after company founder and chairman Gerry Concannon stepped back from the role.


Claremorris was initially selected as the location for CBE because it was well positioned for a company aiming to drive sales across Connacht, but the town has continued to serve CBE well even after its business horizons took on global dimensions.


The opening of Knock Airport in 1985 – as well as its ongoing expansion ever since – was a major boon for the company as it built its UK operations and motorway access to Dublin has also been a benefit.


“Then, Claremorris was one of the first towns to get high-speed fibreoptic which meant we could expand our support hub here and not have to move to a bigger centre,” Sean says. “We have over 30,000 terminals that we support every day, so we need very fast communications infrastructure.”


During the dotcom era it could be difficult to attract staff as software developers were drawn to the cities, and it took tenacity to negotiate the financial crisis.  A determination to retain staff through that difficult time paid dividends. “When the recovery came around, we didn’t have to recruit or retrain. We had some very high calibre people ready to hit the ground running,” Sean says.


Fast forward to 2019 and CBE is well established in its main markets of the UK and Ireland. It also has a nationwide contract with KFC in Denmark and is increasing its reach through consultancy services in Europe and Asia.


CBE is currently recruiting as it develops large projects with companies in the global oil industry and Sean is confident that its ongoing success and attractive and affordable location will draw in high-quality candidates as people increasingly look West to combine challenging careers with a better quality of life.


Claremorris was an ideal location for CBE when their commercial ambitions were limited to Connacht – it still is as they continue to expand around the world.


Premium ride-on toy truck drives sales for Roscommon design engineer

As a child, Wayne Auchmuty couldn’t find what he was looking for, so as an adult he built it. The design engineer from Lecarrow, Co Roscommon, spent much of his childhood in the cab of his father’s truck, and always wanted a scaled down truck that he could call his own.

The desire stayed with him, and in 2008 Wayne contacted Scania in Sweden to enquire about getting a licence to develop a high-spec model of their trucks as a ride-on toy. Scania encouraged Wayne, who had only just graduated from college, to get back to them when he was in a position to work on his concept.


Wayne did so in 2015 after he had established his own company, Lakeside Engineering Design, and Scania gave him a single use licence to develop a prototype. After he delivered the prototype, Scania granted a licence to produce it as an official toy and his new company, Scaled Rigs, was born late last year.

Scaled Rigs then posted a high-quality video of their ride-on truck modelled on the Scania S730 on Facebook to test market interest. “We were hoping to sell maybe 30 pieces in a year, but we had 50 orders within eight weeks,” Wayne says. “We started production in March this year and have been flat out since.”

The keen interest in the product is all the more remarkable as it costs €4,500  ex works – reflecting the premium design and build of the toy which is powered by a 24-volt battery and has a stainless-steel laser cut and fabricated chassis as well as the all-important Scania V8 engine noise. “We went for quality in everything and people see that when they get them,” says Wayne. “It’s more akin to a mobility scooter in its driveline than it is to a kid’s toy.”

As Wayne expected, most of the first wave of customers have been truck companies but a theme park in Norway is looking to buy 12 Scaled Rigs trucks, and other theme and holiday parks have also expressed interest.

Meanwhile, Mercedes has asked Scaled Rigs to develop a toy truck based on the Mercedes Actros and they are also building one for Vlastuin in Holland, who make the American bullnose version of the Scania truck.

Trailers and accessories are also in demand, and the company has just signed agreements with retailers in Holland, Germany, Poland, Italy, Ireland, the UK, France and Belgium.




Kerry offers chance to work hard, play harder

With a love for making sense of numbers, Emily Brick turned her passion into a business by building a suite of analytics products which assist schools in supporting students to achieve their academic potential through ongoing analysis of exam results.

Now living in Tralee, Co Kerry, Emily previously worked in Dublin for five years, but made the move back home to start her own company. “Setting up in Kerry made sense, the cost of living is much cheaper, so there’s a lot less expenses to worry about and I have a great support network around me.”

Her plan was always to go back to Dublin once the company was up and running, but after setting up in Kerry – which is perfectly situated along the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC), she realized there was no need to leave. “Life in Kerry is easier, there’s no commute and it’s much more affordable. And there’s a lovely sense of community here, local business people have been very helpful and very willing to give me their time, help and advice.”


Emily was inspired to set up Athena Analytics in 2017 after spending a year working in the Department of Education in Melbourne, Australia. “I saw lots of ways that schools in Melbourne were analysing their exam results and after doing some research found that schools in Ireland did not have the same processes in place.” The main product, the Athena Tracker, provides an immediate view of how a student is progressing in terms of their own potential and as a result no student is getting lost within a very busy school system.

Over 200 are now using the Athena Analytics products, but the setting up process wasn’t all smooth sailing. “Initially I worked from my parents’ house in Barrow and had great difficulty with Wi-Fi access and even mobile phone coverage – I had to stick my head out the window or run out to the garden to get a good signal for a phone call – but after moving into HQ Tralee things become a lot smoother. I have great Wi-Fi access, good phone coverage and a landline. It’s a very professional space and there’s room for growth.”

Emily also has bright plans for the future, having begun a new project with some of the third level institutions in Ireland which will be launched soon and she’s hoping to add more staff to her current team of two. “I teach at CoderDojo in Tralee, so between the student teachers and the kids, I can see the young talent emerging in Kerry, I look forward to expanding the business here. Plus, I’m a big fan of the outdoors, so Kerry and its beautiful Atlantic coastline has a lot to offer me. It’s easy to get around, so you can use your free time productively rather than sitting in traffic. You can leave work in Tralee at 5pm and be in the sea at Banna Beach by quarter past 5.”


300 jobs to be created in €21m RDI hub in Killorglin

One of the country’s longest-established financial services and technology companies has partnered with Kerry County Council and the Institute of Technology in Tralee to create more than 300 new jobs over the next four years.

The jobs will be in a research, development and innovation hub which has been built and donated by Fexco, and was opened in Killorglin in County Kerry earlier this month.  “The basis of the partnership is to help to create new high end jobs in Kerry, through building on the strength of Fexco in IT and software development,” explained Fexco chief executive, Denis McCarthy, “and using that to help to attract other large corporates to the area, and to provide a space for start-up businesses as well.”

The new facility cost €21 million. “You can see every penny in it. It really is a fantastic space,” Mr McCarthy said. “We are commited to the local community here, and we have put a lot of our own money into this building, and we have got a grant from Enterprise Ireland, so it really is a partnership.”

Fexco was established in Killorglin in 1981. It was one of the first companies in the country to apply developing computer technology to financial services, payments and transactions and it has thrived.

The company employs 2,500 people in 29 countries across the globe. More than 1,000 of those are based in Killorglin.  Mr McCarthy said it is possible to be very successful in a small town such as Killorglin in the fintech space. “The quality of life in Killorglin is really fantastic, and we are hoping to attract people who want a change in lifestyle,” he said. “We find it is more difficult when people are younger, in their 20s, but when they hit a certain age and start having families, often what you find is that people are looking for a higher quality of life, and especially given that you can buy a mansion of a house in Kerry for the cost of a 2-bed apartment in Dublin, there are certain pretty logical reasons why a place like Killorglin can be attractive.

Innovation has made Fexco a world leader in the payments and foreign exchange sectors.
The new research, development and innovation centre will host 125 of its existing R&D staff, and it has promised to create a further 305 jobs by 2024.  The new jobs will be in RDI Hub, a not-for-profit public/private partnership between Fexco, Kerry County Council and the Institute of Technology in Tralee.

The hub is a first for the area and is being backed by Enterprise Ireland, which is investing €3.6 million in the project and will validate the jobs being created.