As Shannon Chamber prepares to welcome on Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD as its first keynote speaker for 2018, in a week when 150 new jobs were announced for Shannon Free Zone, and Norwegian Air International has announced doubled frequency on its Shannon to Providence Green Airport, Rhode Island route and an extra service on its Shannon to Stewart International Airport, Orange County route from March 2018, Shannon Chamber looks back on 2017, describing it as a period of visible transition for the Chamber as an organisation, and the region as a key contributor to the national economy.
Commenting specifically on the announcement that Jaguar Land Rover is to establish a new software engineering centre in Shannon, creating 150 jobs, Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes said: “News of this nature is most welcome for Shannon. We congratulate IDA for securing this investment and Shannon Commercial Properties for having the foresight to build advance property solutions to attract this level and type of investment to Shannon. By choosing Shannon as its preferred location for developing automated driving and electrification technologies, Jaguar Land Rover has pledged to provide high-calibre jobs in the short to medium term and through this is sending out a clear message to our second-level students that there are great opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in Shannon-based companies. Shannon’s strength is its ability to cater for a broad sectoral representation and Jaguar Land Rover’s arrival clearly demonstrates this.”
Key attainments for Shannon Chamber in 2017 included:
- 30 business events hosted
- 39 training programmes delivered to 540 executives in 181 member companies by its training network, Shannon Chamber Skillnet
- Progression of the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) concept to now involve key Ministerial, Government Department, County Council and State Agency involvement
- The establishment of a new Mid-West Lean Network which hosted 6 Lean-focused workshops and an inaugural Lean conference.
- The establishment of a new Shannon STEM brand to promote the uptake of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) as a career option
- The establishment of Shannon Chamber HR in association with Adare HRM to provide dedicated HR and employment law support to member companies
- Success in Bank of Ireland’s Most Enterprising Towns Awards with the Shannon Venue attaining a Merit Award
- Contribution to the Government’s National Planning Framework
Looking back on a year which saw the Chamber expand its operations in Shannon with the opening of a new office suite in Shannon Airport House at Shannon Free Zone whilst retaining a satellite office in SkyCourt Shannon, chief executive Helen Downes refers to 2017 as “an immensely productive year.”
Results through Collaboration: The Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC)
One of the key aims of Shannon Chamber at the outset of 2017 was to work with the collective Chambers along the western seaboard, as part of the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC), to facilitate the creation of an economic development instrument to successfully transition and grow the economy of the Atlantic regions; this is the common goal of all Chambers within the AEC – Shannon, Ennis Tralee, Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, Letterkenny, and the American Chamber of Commerce.
Realising that change comes slowly and ambition is best realised through collaboration and cooperation, Shannon Chamber, through the AEC, inputted to the National Planning Framework (NPF), and in doing so, requested that the Atlantic Economic Corridor be formally recognised as a key element and outcome of this Plan.
Recognising that a regionally balanced approach to economic development is warranted, the AEC recommended that the NPF seek to redress the fundamental economic challenge of depopulation of the West, North-West and Border regions and the underutilised capacity and assets across the corridor at a time of increasing congestion in the Greater Dublin Area. As stated in the AEC strategy (published in 2016) and presented by the Chambers group in its submission to the NPF, it is imperative that we move to a more balanced economic model within the Atlantic regions. This new model must be built on the sustainable development of our natural resource base and should create a unique inter-dependence between FDI and a new base of existing and innovation-led SMEs. The combination of strategic investment in infrastructure, the creative potential of people and communities and the untapped comparative advantage of places can provide the foundation for a linear city composed of urban and inter-urban areas. Each will have their own autonomy but with the common ambition to collaborate in new forms of development.
“We are delighted to now acknowledge that the Government is giving this approach serious consideration through setting up an AEC Task Force, headed up by the Department of Rural and Community Development and involving a cross representation of government departments, the county councils and state agencies.
“Further progression on the development of the AEC will be a priority action for Shannon Chamber in the year ahead,” added Ms Downes.
With over 300 member companies and a reach to their 10,000+ employees, Shannon Chamber’s focus throughout 2017 was on providing members with the opportunity to gain value from their membership, to forge beneficial linkages to enable them grow and gain value from their membership.
“Hosting 30 business events in 2017 enabled a large cohort of our members to meet outside of their normal working environments and to gain new knowledge and insights which these events provide.
“With topics as diverse as Brexit and its impact on business and aviation, employment law, industrial relations and trends in HR, creating healthy working environments, Ireland’s changing financial landscapes, powers of attorney, wills and trusts and many more, we set out to deliver topics of interest to members at all levels. Our annual golf classic, which attracted a full timesheet of four-balls from member companies, was one of the highlights of our social calendar. It’s amazing how new business connections can be forged in this convivial setting.
“Our annual Budget briefing, held in conjunction with Grant Thornton, included a deep dive into the Budget by Professor Sheila Killian, Assistant Dean, Research at the Kemmy Business School. We were pleased that may of our recommendations, in the three primary areas of investing in Ireland’s future, small business and tax reform, were included in the formulation of Budget 2018.
Helping Business to Grow through Training
Shannon Chamber Skillnet, which is one of 64 learning networks established nationally by Skillnets to support and work with businesses in Ireland and their employees to address their current and future skills needs, delivered 39 training programmes to 540 executives in 181 member companies in 2017, bringing the cumulative total in its first two years of operation – September 2015 to December 2017 – to 91 training programmes delivered to 889 executives in 322 member companies, and training provided to 45 unemployed people.
Operational since September 2016, the Network is now recognised as a very credible training network in the greater Shannon area and by its lead organisation, Skillnets, resulting in it being allocated funding , in December 2017, to deliver an even more comprehensive programme in 2018. With a programme of training for 2018 now being formulated, Shannon Chamber encourages companies to avail of this invaluable source of funding which is available to help companies grow and embed new skills within their organisations.
“All of our programmes are open to staff at many levels in an organisation. Training a workforce leads to efficiencies in processes and a resulting financial gain to an organisation. It also injects innovation into companies’ operations and has been proven to reduce employee turnover. A demonstrable commitment by companies to providing relevant training can act as a talent attractor which is so important now that unemployment levels are reducing,” said Ms Downes
A new Mid-West Lean Network
A key achievement in 2017 was the acceleration of the work of the Mid-West Lean Network, established in November 2016, and now involving a membership of 65 companies, all of whom have or are implementing lean processes within their businesses.
Having hosted 6 lean-focused events in 2017, each of which was held in a member company’s facility, namely, Zimmer Biomet, Atlantic Aviation Group, Takumi Precision Engineering, Molex, Element Six and Dell, Shannon Chamber is seeing an increasing number of companies interested in introducing lean practices into their operations.
“Our inaugural conference, held in the University of Limerick in November, was a complete sell-out and received tremendously positive feedback for its content and relevance. Our keynote speaker, Jim Gavin, of Dublin GAA notoriety but also a director with the Irish Aviation Authority, enthralled the audience with his views on leadership in business. Planning is already underway for a busy schedule of activities for the Network in 2018, under the stewardship of Claude Costelloe, operations manager with Zimmer Biomet,” Ms Downes added.
Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)
The evidential small number of second-level students, particularly females, choosing science and engineering as a career option prompted Molex Shannon to link up with Shannon Chamber to assess how to generate interest in STEM as a career choice at transition year level in local schools . The result was the creation of a new brand, STEM Shannon, as a mechanism to formulate a structured Transition Year (TY) programme involving Shannon-based companies, which would be offered to students to give them a more meaningful understanding of what working in science and engineering involves. This programme is currently being formulated and is scheduled for roll-out in February.
A new Skyline at Shannon Free Zone
Congratulating Shannon Commercial Properties on the evidential improvements underway at Shannon Free Zone, Ms Downes said: “The capital work being undertaken at Shannon is revitalising the Free Zone and demonstrates that the provision of advance space does act as an attractor to industry, as evidenced by the Jaguar Land Rover announcement. The new 56,000 sq. ft. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standard office development with its dedicated car park, and a new manufacturing facility currently under construction, will be a tremendous asset to the Zone when complete. Between 2014 and 2016, Shannon Commercial Properties delivered 250,000 sq. ft. of new and upgraded units in the Free Zone with a further 250,000 sq. ft. being upgraded or built between 2016 and 2018.
“Our new location at Shannon Airport House gives us a very tangible appreciation of the level of work underway. Transforming one of the oldest and a landmark building such as Airport House into an incubation hub for new enterprise and providing hot desks to companies seeking to work from Shannon all adds to the comprehensiveness of the offer now available in Shannon.
“We are delighted to now be a contributor to this process and look forward to seeing the completion of the new Starbucks coffee amenity at the entrance to the Zone. These infrastructural improvements are creating the level of critical mass a business zone of the 21st century needs to compete for new investment.”
Addressing Infrastructural Deficits
A key benchmark of the attractiveness of any region as an investment or tourism location is the ease of connectivity to, within and from the region, and this is an issue which Shannon Chamber will continue to keep to the fore in its discussion with key stakeholder at local and national levels. The opening of the final 57km of the M18 motorway in September 2017, will not only bring immediate benefits to towns and cities along the Atlantic Economic Corridor but will support the development of the entire Shannon basin.
“While its immediate benefits will be felt locally, in counties Clare and Galway which sit directly on the route, the benefits will outflow to bordering counties allowing easier access to counties along the entire western seaboard,” stated Ms Downes.
“The spin-off from having a motorway that facilitates faster movement along the western seaboard from Donegal to Kerry and Cork is that it offers the capacity to accelerate growth along the route and spur economic development at a faster rate. It will become the mobility backbone that improves the flow of business and people north to south, increase density along the corridor and increase the catchment area to accelerate industry and business,” she added.
Welcoming the announcement by Norwegian Air International that it is to double its frequency from two to four flights a week on its service to Providence Green Airport, Rhode Island and add an extra service to Stewart International Airport, Orange County, increasing from two to three flights a week, from March 2018, Ms Downes added: “Shannon Airport is a key infrastructural asset to the region with expansive economic impact. Our concern as a Chamber is that the skew that is developing between Dublin as a hub airport and regional airports such as Shannon and Cork, does not increase. This can only be managed by an aviation policy that gives Shannon more autonomy and enables it to grow. Overheating the east coast may be damaging for Ireland in the long term; it could drive business from Ireland. Ease of connectivity into, in and from the region will continue to be a priority benchmark for Shannon Chamber in the year ahead,” added Ms Downes.