A competitive operating environment where the ease of doing business is permanently evident is the unique selling point that Shannon Chamber is keen to project about the Shannon area in the coming year as the impact of Brexit manifests.
This was the message delivered by the Chamber CEO Helen Downes when reflecting on achievements in 2016 and setting the chamber’s 2017 plans in motion.
“The Mid-West is a phenomenal location for business. The ease of commuting and quality of life are unrivalled, no lengthy delays on motorways, easy access for employees, customers and suppliers, and an infrastructure suited to the needs of business in a wide range of sectors. When quality of life attributes – exceptional range of tourism, leisure time and retail offerings, a majestic coastline and the Wild Atlantic Way running along its coast – are added in, the region’s stature as a place to work, live and spend leisure time in increases significantly.
“Accepting that companies have different sets of criterion when choosing a location to invest in, we want to ensure that this region’s attributes match the needs of companies willing to site visit and that they are showcased with impact,” Ms Downes said.
This intent to showcase the region as a competitive location is already underway with the establishment of the Mid-West Lean Network in late 2016, aimed at encouraging companies to adopt Lean practices. This network, the brainchild of Shannon Chamber, has already had buy-in from companies in the region, keen to adopt or strengthen a Lean culture within their organisations. The first of a series of monthly Lean workshops was held in Zimmer Biomet on Wednesday, 18 January, and was attended by over 70 executives from 20 companies.
“This was a most successful first venture for the network with attendees being set a challenge to leverage measurable changes in their operations though being part of the Lean forum. This is not a network in name only. With Molex chairing proceedings in the first year and a committee representative of the business community, we are extremely confident that this type of collaboration will deliver tangible results and set this region apart.
Looking back on a year in which the Chamber delivered a wide range of programmes to its 300 member companies and their 10,000 employees, Ms Downes pointed to the Highlights for 2016:
New Chamber President
2016 saw Julie Dickerson, CEO of Shannon Engine Support assume the role of President of Shannon Chamber. Ms Dickerson succeeded Kevin Thompstone, managing director, the Thompstone Group, who served a three-year term of office. In her first year in office, as the first female president of the Chamber, Ms Dickerson actively engaged with the region’s key stakeholders to advance strategic issues affecting the region.
- 24 events, seminars and workshops were hosted during 2016 on a range of topics and with input from local and national guest speakers. The ever-popular annual golf classic drew a record 43 teams with almost 172 golfers taking to the fairways at Shannon Golf Club in June. The 2017 classic promises to be even bigger and better.
Shannon Chamber Skillnet
- A new Skillnet training network, launched in September 2015, completed its first year of operation in September 2016 with a first-year extension to December 2016. 51 training programmes were delivered in the first 16 months to 415 executives in 156 member companies, with training also provided to 29 jobseekers. A new ‘Lunch and Learn’ series was introduced to give busy executives an overview of some of the key skills in business today. All programmes involved cross-sectoral training with representatives from a broad range of sectors attending courses.
· An application to continue to run a Skillnet in 2017 was successful. The wide range of programmes on offer in 2017 have been selected because of their suitability to staff at many levels across organisations and their ability to lead to efficiencies in processes, deliver financial gain and inject innovation into companies’ operations.
· As a key contributor to the Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017 (APFJ) and a member of the Implementation Committee, Shannon Chamber is acutely aware of the need ‘to position the Mid-West as the best location in Ireland for integrating skills provision with enterprise requirements and to retain and upskill the pool of talent currently employed by member companies.
Action Plan for Jobs 2015 – 2017 (APFJ)
- With regard to the APFJ, Shannon Chamber is an active contributor to the Implementation Committee and, having delivered on 2 Action items in 2015 (31 and 69), added Action item 14 to its deliverables in 2016; this called for the establishment of an Enterprise Engagement Platform whereby information on all the support services available to enterprise could be easily accessed online.
- As a first step in this process, Shannon Chamber linked up with Ennis and Limerick Chambers to organise an ‘offline’ Funding seminar and showcase to enable a wide range of public and private sector funders to present their offers and be available for one-to-one meetings with companies. The delivery of Action item 14 in its full capacity, creating the requested online platform, is a bigger undertaking and will require significant funding and resources but is a deliverable the Chambers are keen to provide collectively.
Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC)
· Shannon Chamber also linked in with Chambers along the entire western seaboard (Shannon, Ennis, Limerick, Tralee, Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, Leitrim and Sligo – with a collective membership 2,725 companies employing 80,000 people) and the American Chamber of Commerce to launch a new Atlantic Economic Corridor initiative. The AEC’s mission is to realise the hidden, untapped opportunity to bring jobs and investment to the region and develop a ‘city of scale’ effect in the AEC to rival the economic powerhouse of Dublin and Cork.
- Work on this new concept continues and presentations have been made to the Minister of State for Regional Development, the Departments of: Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government; IDA Ireland; Enterprise Ireland; Western Development Commission; Northern and Western Regional Assembly; South-West Regional Authority; and Local Authorities along the western seaboard.
- Against a backdrop where Ireland’s infrastructure score had dropped in ranking by two places, as highlighted in the National Competitiveness Council Bulletin, Shannon Chamber in its pre-Budget submission, via Chambers Ireland, called on the Government to demonstrate serious commitment to balanced regional development through including measures to enhance regional competitiveness when compiling Budget 2017. Items of concern to Shannon Chamber members contained in the submission included: the speedy roll out of high-speed broadband to rural locations, the lack of which is seriously disadvantaging businesses operating from rural towns; a review of rates nationally as the current system is not fit for purpose and needs to be reviewed on a national scale to make it less onerous on business; a review of personal tax levels to increase Ireland’s attractiveness for FDI and encourage expats to return to work in Ireland and; bigger tax breaks for entrepreneurs.
- Shannon Chamber partook in a six-month Disability Confidence pilot project, which was undertaken in Clare and Limerick. The project, which was funded by the Department of Justice through the National Disability Authority, was delivered by lead partners, EmployAbility Clare and Shannon Chamber, in conjunction with EmployAbility Limerick and Ennis and Limerick Chambers.
Key deliverables from this project included: the appointment of disability champions in 8 Clare and 4 Limerick companies; the completion and publication of the results of a disability-awareness and participation survey administered to companies in the region; the launch a new website www.disabilityconfidence.ie; and the presentation of certificates to 13 Job Shadow Day host companies 2016.
This project was an excellent first step in changing the mind-set towards helping people with a disability, injury or illness take up or return to work.
Rural Economic Development Zones (REDZ) Project
- The very successful Shannon Festival 2016, the first such event to be held in Shannon in over 30 years, was the culmination of a series of workshops and think-tanks organised by The Venue Shannon promoters and facilitated by funding received through the Commission for the Economic Development for Rural Areas (CEDRA) REDZ initiative. Shannon Chamber assisted The Venue promoters co-ordinating the workshops, regarding this undertaking as the ideal way to bring the community and the creative sectors together to work towards making Shannon a better place in which to live, work and do business in. A second Shannon Festival will be held in September 2017.
Meeting EU Officials in Brussels
- Shannon Chamber was delighted to participate in a delegation from the Irish Chamber of Commerce Network, led by Chambers Ireland, that met with key officials from across the European Commission in Brussels. With representation from Chambers of Commerce across Ireland, the objective of the trip was to highlight the need for the European Commission to proactively engage with the business community, particularly SMEs, on issues like trade, innovation, skills and regulation. This visit enabled Shannon Chamber to gain an insight into the entire EU process and to discuss how decisions at European level affect Shannon businesses. A number of SMEs, including Shannon-based Atlantic Aviation Group, also participated in the delegation.
Chambers Ireland Board
- Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes was re-elected to the Board of Chambers Ireland. Representation at this national level will ensure that Shannon’s interests, the necessity of balanced regional development, measures to support business growth, infrastructural investment and sustainable development are advocated as a priority at national level.
Shannon Group plc
- Shannon Chamber welcomed the appointment, in 2016, of a new Chief Executive, Matthew Thomas, to the Shannon Group plc., to lead and oversee development at both the Airport and the Shannon Free Zone. Mr Thomas’ accomplished background in delivering transformational projects, terminal redevelopment, airline and route development, will enable Shannon to build on the remarkable gains attained since becoming independent in 2013. The Shannon Group’s portfolio of products is a key infrastructural asset for the Shannon Region and Shannon Chamber looks forward to contributing in every way possible to ensure that the Shannon Group’s ambitious targets are attained.
Commenting of the Chamber’s achievements in the past twelve months, Ms Downes said: “2016 was a very fulfilling year; we increased our headcount to 6 to handle the increasing workload required to adequately respond to the needs of our 300 member companies.
“We continually strive to enhance our relevance to our member companies and attain this through practical engagement and maintaining a two-way flow of communication with executives at all levels within our member base.
“Dialogue facilitates learning and identifies gaps at company and regional level. Our mandate as a Chamber of Commerce is to seek to alleviate and address issues that impact business and the region; it’s a role that is ever evolving, wonderfully challenging, and always growing,” added Ms Downes.