A Year of Reconnection, Reinvigoration, and expanded Reach…Shannon Chamber Review of 2022

Looking back on a year which saw a gradual return to the new normality, Shannon Chamber describes 2022 as a year that enabled it to reconnect in person with its members, a year of visible reinvigoration in all sectors of its membership and a year in which it expanded its stakeholder reach to initiate new opportunities for its members and for the betterment of Shannon and the region.

It was also a year in which the Chamber board took a deep dive into the organisation’s raison d’etre to formulate a new strategic plan, which will be launched in February 2023.

Notable achievements for the Chamber in 2022 included winning the ‘Most Successful Policy Campaign’ category in Chambers Ireland’s awards for its Shannon and Regional Airports Covid Traffic Recovery & Support Scheme (TRSS) campaign undertaken in 2021. This campaign, undertaken in collaboration with the Irish Hotels Federation, and supported by Ennis, Limerick and Galway Chambers, involved the preparation of a business case for a multi-annual, fully funded regional air access recovery and growth action plan which was presented to Government.

“This was a most rewarding outcome to this year-long campaign, which involved meetings with Government and elected representatives, and presentations to Oireachtas committees, in which we sought a reform of funding strategy to aid the recovery, restoration, and growth of regional air access. The campaign contributed to the allocation of funding for State airports to enable them offer route incentives and rebates to airlines, the inclusion of Shannon and Cork airports in the Regional Airports Programme, and an increase in the Tourism Marketing Fund in Budget 2022.

A key function of Shannon Chamber is to be the voice of and lobbyist for its membership, seeking resolution on issues that impact business at an operational or infrastructural level.

“The purpose of such interventions is to ensure that action is taken on issues of concern to our members. We speedily acknowledge when our requests are positively responded to and maintain our lobbying where resolutions are not evidently forthcoming,” said Ms Downes.

“The delivery of the Shannon Town Masterplan, the transfer of the region’s heritage sites to Clare Council, the rationale for concentrating Border Custom Post (BCP) controls for agri-food and related products at Dublin Airport, and the inclusion of Shannon Chamber on the Working Group to oversee a review of the National Aviation Policy, will be priority concerns for us in Q1, 2023,” added Ms Downes.

Collaboration with regional and national stakeholders is also a high-agenda item for Shannon Chamber and in 2022, it increased its level of engagement with local authorities, state agencies, third-level colleges and national representative organisations to strengthen its offer to members and to enhance its Skillnet business network offering.

The increasing focus on skills’ development now inherent in Chamber member companies’ retention and recruitment policies led Shannon Chamber to apply for a new round of funding from Skillnet Ireland in 2022 to support the training needs of its member companies over the next three years. The application, which was successful, will see Shannon Chamber Skillnet offer an enhanced suite of training to enhance companies’ digitisation, innovation sustainability and decarbonisation capabilities.

“With a diverse spread of sectors amongst our membership, it was imperative that, prior to applying for this additional funding, we ascertained the type of courses that would enable members to develop talent, address the evolving challenges facing them, deal with changing operating models and supply chain requirements and, given the battle for talent, enable them to retain and attract staff. We will also be able to support those who find themselves unemployed to upskill, which will assist them greatly in seeking new employment opportunities in the region,” Ms Downes added.

In launching the review of 2022, Ms Downes thanked members for their steadfastness throughout the past few difficult years and for their determination to sustain their operations thereby contributing to the buoyancy of the region. She thanked the Chamber’s board and staff for their ongoing dedication to the Chamber’s activities and looked forward to an even busier and more successful year in 2023.

“On the lighter side, we hope to see the title of All-Island Chamber golf champions return to Shannon as it did in 2022, when the team from Career Decisions, who won our golf classic and went on to represent Shannon Chamber in the inaugural Chamber All Island Golf Classic held on the Arnold Palmer Ryder Cup course at the K Club, brough the trophy back to Shannon. Shannon Chamber’s 2023 Classic will return to its pre-COVID mid-summer slot and will be held on 22 June,” Ms Downes added.

2022: In Review

Lobbying on issues of concern to members

Key issues of concern in 2022, which were brought to the attention of Government, the region’s elected representatives and local authorities included:

  • The recent move by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine officials to concentrate Border Custom Post (BCP) controls for agri-food and related products at Dublin Airport, a move that undermines Shannon Airport’s pivotal role as a Border Custom Post (BCP) and adds significant costs to freight forwarders and their client companies in the Region and beyond in the process. This issue, which has also been brought to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture and elected representatives in the region, will continue to be challenged by the Chamber in 2023 until the issue has been thoroughly examined, and the decision explained and potentially reversed.
  • Requested elected representatives to liaise with Clare County Council and Government to ensure that the key requirements of the Shannon Town Masterplan implementation are delivered. This will continue to be a key priority for Shannon Chamber in 2023 and a meeting was sought in this regard with Minister Darragh O’Brien.
  • Clarification on the future of Shannon Heritage, specifically that the funding to support the transfer of the heritage sites in the region to Clare County Council be approved as these regional and national assets simply cannot be allowed to deteriorate due to lack of Government support. Shannon Chamber stressed that a decision on the approval of such funding for the Council is urgent and vital. This will be a priority concern for Shannon Chamber in Q1 2023.
  • Submission, in conjunction with Chambers Ireland, in advance of Budget 2023.
  • A request that Shannon Chamber be directly represented on the Working Group that is expected to be appointed to oversee a review of the National Aviation Policy.
  • Clarification on whether qualified Ukrainian HGV drivers could work for transport companies in Ireland using their current licence.
  • Concern re delays in processing work permits and visas for foreign nationals from non-EEA countries.

Submissions to Government and Local Authorities

Shannon Chamber responds to and in some instances initiates submissions to Government, local authorities and national representative organisations on policies or programmes that impact the region. Submissions made in 2022 included:

  • Response (in December 2022) to Clare County Council’s Phase 3 Environmental Impact Assessment Scoping Report for the N19 Shannon Airport Access Road Improvement Scheme. This submission highlighted points that needed further addressing, most notably, the lack of reference to the new Shannon Town Centre Masterplan in the EIAR and the impact the selected option might have on the planning reservation that is in place for the rail line/spur to Shannon in existing development plans. We also stressed the importance of reality checking any proposed changes to junctions and roundabouts against local knowledge and current traffic patterns at various times of the day and night.
  • Submission (in November 2022) to the Department of Transport’s 10-year Road Haulage Strategy, devised in response to the need to generate efficiencies and improve standards, as well as helping the sector to move to a low-carbon future. Shannon Chamber’s submission included a request that the European Modular System be considered as a mode of transport in Ireland as it has been found to be most sustainable as it reduces the number of engines required to transport an increased number of trailers e.g., one truck with additional trailers attached. Shannon Chamber believes that introducing such a system would contribute to increased fuel efficiency, address the issue of driver shortage in the sector and reduce congestion on the roads. It is a very environmentally friendly system with Co2 savings of 25%.
  • Submission (in October 2022) to Clare County Council pre the compilation of its 2023 Budget, outlining a number of specific areas of concern to the Chamber, most notably seeking:
    • a reversal of the 3.8% increase imposed in 2022, which would be in line with the approach of national government in Budget 2023 where every effort was made to provide additional financial supports across all sectors rather than increasing taxes and charges.
    • the continuance of the existing rate support schemes for SMEs and the hospitality sector.
    • seeking assurances that the necessary staffing and other resources will be assigned by the Council to progress and expedite the Shannon Town Masterplan and in particular any funding applications under the Urban Regeneration Development Funding Scheme.
    • supporting the takeover of Shannon Heritage assets on the basis that it does not have a negative impact on revenue for the Council and result in a further demand on ratepayers and offering advice or assistance where appropriate to support the Council in delivering on this very significant initiative for the benefit of tourism and wider economic development in the county.
  • Submission (in September 2022) to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment outlining short-to-medium term, and longer-term measures that could be introduced to alleviate the spiralling energy costs and uncertainty of supply concerns of member companies. Responding to these concerns and following a special members’ brainstorming forum on the issue, the Chamber formulated a comprehensive set of proposals for the urgent attention and action of Government. These proposals were industry-led and evidenced-based. They were put together in a considered and constructive manner by businesspeople, who are in the frontline in grappling with the current crisis.
  • Submission (in July 2022) to the Revised Draft Limerick / Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (LSMATS). Having reviewed the Revised Draft, we were delighted to note that most of the key points raised in our Submission of October 2020 with regards to Walking, Cycling, BusConnects, Rail, Roads & Streets, Traffic Management, Freight, Delivery and Servicing and Supporting Measures were taken on board. This further submission, in July 2022, focused on a few additional comments about issues raised in our previous submission which had not been taken on board in the revised draft.
  • Submission (in July 2022) to The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce in response to a request from the Transport and Logistics Sub-group. Proposals and detailed commentary regarding five key areas concerning transport and logistic, were included in the submission, namely:
    • Integrated Transport Systems
    • Sustainable Transport Fuels
    • Connectivity and Broadband
    • Logistics Hub
    • Education and Training
  • Submission (in July 2022) to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment regarding the Public Consultation for the White Paper on Enterprise Policy. In this submission, Shannon Chamber outlined the high-level negative trends since the implementation of the ‘Ahead of the Curve’ industrial policy and put forward suggestions for potential sources of growth over the next decade.
  • Submission (in March 2022) to Clare County Council’s Draft County Development Plan 2023 –2029, specifically seeking a commitment that the Shannon Town Masterplan will be delivered on and rolled out in its entirety to definitive timelines, set down at the outset.

Active participation in Atlantic Economic Forum (AEC)

Shannon Chamber continued to play an active role in the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) Business Forum which brings together chambers across the corridor. The AEC chambers have articulated the opportunity and the business case for realisation of untapped wind and marine resources in the AEC region since inception in 2015.    

In line with the primary goal of the AEC initiative, “to realise the hidden untapped potential of the region”, a meeting of AEC chambers in Shannon (October 2022) focused on the significant green energy opportunities. There are a number of potential wind energy and related hydrogen projects being pursued along the AEC corridor, including the Shannon Estuary project, the Galway Bay project and the Mayo Wind Energy project. All projects are focused on offshore wind energy and a hydrogen storage/use strategy.   

There is a very positive investor commitment. Gaps are evident in national policy relating to planning framework, infrastructure, transmission and distribution grid and alignment with changes in EU energy policy designed to facilitate the transition to green energy.  

AEC chambers will continue to collaborate and highlight the untapped opportunity and the policy changes required to accelerate investor commitment from concept to implementation.

A return to in-person events

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions from early 2022, and staff working a hybrid model initially, the Chamber’s events slowly moved to in-person mode from May, when the then CEO of IDA Ireland, Martin Shanahan, addressed members and their guests at the first networking luncheon held in over two years.

Retaining a mix of online and in-person events for the year, the Chamber hosted:

  • 10 online and 18 in-person events in 2022, held in association with a wide range of stakeholders including Adare HRM, Holmes, Mazars, Grant Thornton, PwC, Regional Skills Forum, Local Enterprise Office Clare, IATA, the Valuation Office, the Public Appointments Service, Clare County Council, SITES, Skillnet Ireland, University of Limerick and many more private and public sector organisations.
  • Keynote speakers, Paul Healy, CEO, Skillet Ireland and Peter Mannion, Partner, McKinsey & Company, addressed members at luncheons in Dromoland Castle Hotel, the latter speaking at the Chamber President’s annual lunch in December.
  • A ‘Scaling Up‘ event with world-renowned Verne Harnish returned after three years, this time running over 2 days, and sponsored by Enterprise Ireland.
  • 4 workshops were hosted by the Chamber’s Mid-West Lean Network:
    • Rapid Problem Solving with Modular Automation and Crystal Lean Solutions
    • MÓR™ Benchmarking Model – Maximising your Lean approach with Cook Medical
    • Emotional Intelligence for project managers with Velopi
    • Digital Lean with Takumi, Bijur Delimon International & WrxFlo & LBS Partners

and the annual Mid-West Lean Network Conference returned, held in the Analog Devices Building at the University of Limerick. The 2002 theme was ‘Future-Proofing a Business through Lean. This network is supported by Enterprise Ireland and chaired by Gavin Sheehan, senior reliability engineer at Analog Devices International.

  • Shannon Chamber Skillnet – 116 training programmes and 13 events were delivered to 194 companies involving over 900 trainees via the Chamber’s Skillnet business network and the Chamber successfully applied to Skillnet Ireland for further rounds of funding to accelerate its training offering over the next three years. A procurement process to roll out the 2023 training schedule is currently underway.

Industry-Driven Forums that foster collaboration

In response to members’ concerns about the lack of opportunity to meet with like-minded professionals in their specific areas of expertise, Shannon Chamber has set up a number of Forums to enable executives exchange ideas, issues and share best practice. The Forums are exclusive to experienced professionals in each respective area of expertise. Forum members meet formally up to four times a year. During 2022:

  • The CEO Forum, which is chaired by Kevin Thompstone of the Thompstone Group and a director with Shannon Chamber, were briefed by Clare County Council on the Shannon Town Centre Masterplan, One Shannon Hub, Digi Clare and Revaluation; this dialogue will continue in 2023.
  • The HR Forum, chaired by Caroline O’Brien from SES Ltd., in 2022 and by Erin Hooban, Group HR Manager with Enva Ireland in 2023, holds regular meetings to discuss issues of concern to companies, in addition to hosing two HR Barometer events in May and in November and a roundtable discussion with Marianne Roux, HR Executive, Future of Work Strategist and Professor of Leadership.
  • The Mid-West Lean Network, chaired by Gavin Sheehan, senior reliability engineer with Analog Devices held 4 workshops and an annual conference in 2022.
  • The Shannon Chamber Skillnet Steering Group, chaired by Dr. Wassim Derguech, co-founder and chief operating officer, Future Mobility Campus Ireland, oversees the activities of the Skillnet Business Network, provides input to programme selection and monitors performance against key performance indicators. Full Steering Group members are listed at https://www.shannonchamber.ie/about/shannon-chamber-skillnet/skillnet-steering-committee/ with Trevor Rodgers, L&D manager with Atlantic Aviation Group the most recent addition to the committee.
  • The newly established Sustainability Task Force, chaired by sustainability professional Barry Gavin, held its first meeting in November 2022. The Task Force, which is member-led, was set up to support Shannon Chamber members in their sustainability journeys and in the delivery of their sustainability goals. The Task Force will hold its next meeting on Wednesday, 1 February 2023 when its purpose, terms of references, goals and priorities for 2023 will be ratified.

Showcasing Shannon to an international audience

Mindful of the benefits that can accrue from publicising and promoting all that Shannon has achieved and has to offer, the Chamber opened its doors to a new cohort of international visitors in 2022, giving its guests a comprehensive overview of the expansiveness of Shannon’s offering and the span of activities undertaken by Shannon-based companies . Visitors in 2022 included:

  • An Executive MBA group from the Ohio University
  • Meetings with Ambassadors:
    • Ambassador of India to Ireland Akhilesh Mishra
    • Slovenian Ambassador to Ireland Stanislav Vidoviè
    • Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Nancy Smyth