There’s an air of confidence in the business community these days and Jackie Maguire, Chief Executive of Meath County Council, believes everything is in place for the county to attract and retain a thriving workforce.
County Meath’s location within the greater Dublin area means that it really is ideal for business. Yet we found that we were falling short in terms of economic development, vis a vis population growth, infrastructure growth and some key skillsets in the workforce. So the Meath Economic Development Strategy 2014-2022 has been built around finding solutions to these problems.
We found that we were doing well at attracting, retaining and supporting indigenous Irish companies – we have a 50 per cent higher rate of companies supported by Enterprise Ireland and local enterprise offices than the national average, with 12 per cent of jobs supported by EI, which is 4 per cent higher than the national average.
However, one of the stats that jumped out at us was not as positive. Our research showed that there was a high level of the county’s population who commuted out of Meath to work. Part of our strategy, therefore, is to ensure that this trend is reversed and that means making sure we harness and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation skills within the county to create the jobs that attract a skilled and dynamic workforce.
As a local authority, we don’t actually create the jobs but we can help to create that entrepreneurial atmosphere so that businesses – both established and startups – feel supported in their plans. We do whatever we can in the areas we can directly control, like infrastructure, and then work to influence government departments and agencies on a national level around areas like communications, as broadband is a major issue.
Of course, you have to play to your strengths and we recognise that the food and drinks industry in Meath is well established and many food producers are already nationally and internationally known. We see this as an area that we can foster and support and that’s how the concept of the Boyne Valley Food Hub came about. Nurturing innovation here in the heart of the Boyne Valley is key to creating those entrepreneurial skillsets that can benefit the whole of the county.
Meath Enterprise Week is an initiative that we started last year to help promote and develop entrepreneurship in the region and our alliance with Global Entrepreneurship Week and GEN Ireland gives us access to an enormous global network. During the week, we run events, workshops and talks for Startups and SMEs to help support their businesses and give them an opportunity to network and discuss their businesses and ideas. The vast majority of the events are free as we want to attract as many people as possible to participate. There is a lot of support available for businesses, but there’s often a lack of awareness from people who are just starting, so opening their eyes to the amount of help, encouragement and even money available is a big part of the week.
This time next year I would hope we are well advanced with the Boyne Valley Food Hub and are able to get more foreign direct investment, but most importantly, we hope to see Irish companies increase the percentage of jobs they create in the county. We want to see many of those who are currently commuting outward to be working and living in the county. With a more vibrant workforce, the schools will be better, the shops will be better, the communities will be better – there’s a huge positive knock-on effect when you have a population that lives and works locally.