VITAL Multinationals like Allergan are a key driver to the Mayo economy. Pictured at the opening of Allergan’s new €160m Biologics two facility in Westport earlier this year were Wayne Swanton, EVP of Global Operations at Allergan plc; Michael Ring, TD, then Minister for Rural and Community Development and Paul Coffey, VP of Global Manufacturing (Eyecare and Biologics) and site lead at Westport. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
The development of a Castlebar-Westport hub is key to counterbalancing the selection of Sligo, Letterkenny and Athlone as regional growth centres in the northern and western region.
That’s according to James O’Doherty, a long-time member of Westport Chamber of Commerce with experience in the FDI and SME sectors.
Speaking to The Mayo News about the strength and weaknesses of the FDI and SME sectors in Mayo, Mr O’Doherty pinpointed plans for the Westport-Castlebar hub as key but also observed businesspeople in the county need to be more attuned to such regional policy decisions.
“Mayo businesspeople need to pay attention to development regarding the national development plans. The Atlantic Economic Corridor, which seeks to develop economic activity and enabling infrastructure north to south parallel to the west coast, risks being drawn into existing centres of population.
“To counter this, the identification of the Castlebar-Westport hub as a single population centre connected through the N5 dual carriageway, will benefit all of county Mayo and act as a counter point for investment and political attention to the other regional centres: Letterkenny, Sligo, Athlone, and Galway, the only city in the BMW region, and west of the Shannon,” he said.
Mr O’Doherty said Mayo’s strong FDI factor is a key component in the county’s economy, compared to other counties with a fraction of the FDI footprint.
Long established companies such as Allergan in Westport, Baxter in Castlebar and Hollister and Coca-Cola in Ballina provide in the region of 3,000 jobs in the county and Mr O’Doherty said it was very encouraging that such companies ‘have shown longevity and have continued to invest, upgrade and renew’ while ‘indigenous companies have developed international businesses from Mayo and continue to invest and remain committed to the region’.
“County Mayo has proven to be a good home for enterprises with ambition. Westport Multi Agency Enterprise Group had an investment promotion initiative in 2010 themed ‘Westport Works’ that highlighted the longevity and global success of businesses based in Westport – such as Charles Hughes & Co, which celebrated its centenary, Kavanagh’s SuperValu, the largest operator in the Musgrave brand, and Abbvie (Allergan), which is developing products to carry it into a half-century in Mayo. The same story prevails around the county, with solid productive economies based on long-established enterprises which have continually invested in upgrading products, capabilities and have adapted their business models to compete globally,” he said.
He singled out Mayo County Council’s Local Enterprise Office (LEO) as ‘one of the best performing and pro-active LEOs in the country’ and singled out local management as a key factor in the long-term success of FDIs.
Infrastructure has long been an issue but has improved considerably, he said.
“The late Jim Murren, IDA regional manager, always advised that we monitor and protect access to customers and markets. Road and rail access to markets has improved considerably through upgrades to the national roads and rail infrastructure, and increased passenger rail capacity. Broadband is the most important mode for access in the coming years. Trans-Atlantic crossings should be encouraged to land along our coastline, and to tie into the local network. Affordable and reliable broadband is key to attracting new start-ups, who are often attracted by lifestyle considerations,” he said.
Lack of support
In his study of the economy of County Mayo last year, Dr John Bradley, formerly of the ESRI, singled out the ‘significant base of foreign multinationals’ as the number one strength of Mayo’s economy.
He was fulsome in his praise of FDIs in the county and also of indigenous industry but argued cogently they were not being enabled as much as they could by various state actors.
For instance, he argued that both Project Ireland 2040 and the Northern and Western Regional Assembly’s recent Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy ‘are excessively focused on spatial planning, with very little emphasis on the real drivers of an enterprise led economy’.
Issues around the management and implementation of regional development comprised three of the five chief threats to the Mayo economy identified by Dr Bradley.
He argued for structural changes, a more bottom up model of decision making as opposed to the current top down model and an enterprise approach more tailored to each county’s individual characteristics.
It is a view echoed by Castlebar-based businessman John Moran. Mr Moran, who works in the area of local development, argues for a locally based economic development network, saying the success of social community efforts proves the platform is there.
“Rural Ireland, communities, towns and villages, have a significant self-help legacy. Look at the group water schemes, football pitches, and community facilities. Does it make sense to optimise this structure as a realistic economic development platform? The social aspect of community development is proven on a daily basis, rural transport, Meals on Wheels etc.
“The EU has downgraded this region to a region in transition yet we have never sought to explore why previous regional development strategies have failed. Are we going to keep going around in circles?”
He is critical of the selection of Letterkenny, Sligo and Athlone as regional growth centres, saying that decision could be counter productive.
“The proposed Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) is to target Galway, Athlone, Sligo and Letterkenny as development hubs. The logical consequence is a significant increase to the number of daily commuters, which conflicts with the government objective to reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.
He is also critical of what he says is the lack of support for the GMIT Mayo Campus, saying it needs to be a standalone campus, not at the mercy of funding assistance from GMIT headquarters in Galway.
In Dr Bradley’s Study of the Economy of County Mayo, some of the above points were referenced. His SWOT analysis highlighted a significant base of foreign multinationals, a robust, modern indigenous manufacturing sector and a rapidly improving social living environment.
However, weaknesses included the small, dispersed nature of towns with poor linking infrastructure, weaknesses in GMIT Castlebar while threats included what he called weak regional development strategies.
Another weakness was a north-south divide in development, with the south coasting ahead. It is a point illustrated by Tommy Griffith in this week’s case study, when his company chose Ballindine as a base because of its proximity to the motorway in Tuam.
In all, Mayo has a lot to be thankful for from an enterprise point of view but also plenty of ongoing challenges also.