We’ve had Brexit. We’ve had Trump. We are witnessing the rise of the far right across Europe. At home our economic stability is being challenged – union pay demands, a housing crisis and a government make-up unlike anything we have seen before.
Against this backdrop Limerick is witnessing a rebirth. The Limerick 2030 Economic and Spatial Plan has given the city and county a platform for growth and development. Investment is happening.
City centre retail is picking up, particularly in the hospitality industry. Job creation is the key focus and the new confident attitude seen across our stakeholders is reaping rewards.
At the same time, Limerick Chamber, a key signatory of the new Limerick Charter, has undergone a major facelift. Since his appointment last year, the CEO of Limerick Chamber James Ring has dramatically changed the organisation’s structure with many new faces being appointed to the organisation.
One of these personnel additions is the new Chamber Director of Policy Caroline Kelleher. A graduate of commerce from UCC, where she finished first in a class of 154 students, Kelleher has an impressive CV.
Her further education includes a First Class Masters in Economic Science as well as a Post Grad in Statistics in Trinity College and successful completion of CIMA qualifications.
Caroline has worked as an Economic Consultant with Goodbody Stockbrokers, a Strategic Planning and Advisory Consultant with AECOM, and most recently as a Senior Economist with DKM Economic Consultants.
In this interview she chats to me about her new role and the opportunities it presents and her key policy objectives.
The Limerick opportunity
Kelleher arrives in her new policy role at Limerick Chamber at a very interesting time in the Chamber’s history.
“I feel that Limerick is undergoing major transformation at present”, she tells me. “There is huge potential for Limerick in the coming years. In the past few years, there have been a significant number of job announcements which shows how successful Limerick has been in attracting investment and how companies want to locate here”.
She believes the 2030 plan will see major redevelopment of key sites in Limerick City and will have significant economic impacts in the short term on construction employment for the region but also in the longer term in attracting investment to the area.
“More and more companies and their employees want to locate in vibrant cities and Limerick is working to achieve a more vibrant city. There are plenty of pubs and restaurants to choose from as well as theatre and event spaces and a good shopping experience with independent stores and artisan markets”, she notes.
Kelleher believes the region must ensure there is sufficient investment in infrastructure.
“If we are to meet the needs for future economic growth and continue to attract investment into the region, it is vital that there is sufficient capital spending in the areas of transport, housing, commercial property, water and wastewater”, she says.
In particular Kelleher sees the Northern Relief Road as is a vital piece of infrastructure for Limerick.
“This will allow easier access to the University of Limerick and will also open up areas of land for further development. Likewise, the recommencement of the planning process for the M20 is also a key project that needs to be progressed to ensure more balanced regional development for the three regional cities of Cork, Limerick and Galway”, she adds.
Caroline believes it is crucial for Limerick to be ready and prepared for any new investment opportunities. For that reason, she emphasizes the need for continued investment in industry and office space.
“Limerick 2030 will contribute significantly to this in the coming years. It is also important that there is continued investment in Education and training to ensure that the skills of our graduates continue to meet industry requirements.
Significant steps have been made in this regard in initiatives such as ‘Limerick for Engineering’ and ‘Limerick for IT’ as well as the recently opened Bernal Institute in UL”, she notes.
Chamber Policy Focus
In terms of Limerick Chamber’s role in the new Limerick project Kelleher believes the policy strategy will be key.
“We are the largest Chamber in the Mid-West and therefore have a key role to play in supporting the development of the region. If we want to see the Mid-West region continue to flourish, we need to be proactive in seeking policies that support the development of the region and the business environment”, she says.
Kelleher has hit the ground running in her new role and already is actively seeking to influence policy. Just recently the recommencement of planning on the M20 was announced, something that had been on the Chambers policy agenda for some time.
She sees the transformation being seen in Limerick as something that excites her most about the new role.
“There is great momentum in the region, to continue to develop Limerick and the Mid-West. In the past two months we have seen a significant number of job announcements, which is further reinforcing the view that it is a key place to do business.
The ‘can do’ attitude that I have encountered since coming to Limerick is evident of the ambition of the people in Limerick and the Mid-West to continue to develop and grow the city and region”, she says.
“It will all depend on whether we have a hard or soft exit. I think Brexit is both an opportunity and a threat”, she says.
“As our largest trading partner, the devaluation of sterling has had a very negative impact on our exports. Many small businesses that were not be in a position to hedge for such currency movements have been very negatively affected. This is particular the case for indigenous owned companies and particularly companies in the Food sector. Our energy supply is also an issue to consider. Currently 90% of our gas comes via the UK which is a concern in the event of a hard Brexit”.
Conversely, she believes that Brexit does also open us to opportunities.
“As Ireland will be the only English speaking country in the EU, it will help us to capitalise on any new investment into the European market but also any potential leakage from the UK. With a significant pipeline of office space coming on-stream in Limerick and a housing market that is not as constrained as Dublin, there is potential for the region to benefit from some of this”.
“While our corporation tax is an important aspect in attracting FDI to Ireland it is important to remember that Ireland is attractive to FDI for a number of reasons, including our skilled workforce but also our location which facilitates companies to run global operations”, she says.
“Moreover, Trump’s protectionism policy could counter the benefits of lower corporation tax. In the event that there is a move towards protectionism, which could result in trade tariffs, it will be more important for US companies to have a European base. From that point of view, I think that the impact on investment here will be limited”.
One of the key priorities for Kelleher and Limerick Chamber will be issues that ensure more balanced regional development for the Mid-West.
She highlights sufficient investment in transport infrastructure as vital for the region, sees the Northern Distributor Road is a key piece of infrastructure that needs to be developed, views the M20 Limerick to Cork Motorway as a potential game game changer for the region and sees the N69 road upgrade is also vital to the continued development of our Port.
“I believe it will be important to look again at progressing the Shannon LNG terminal. This is a key piece of infrastructure that could have significant economic impacts for the region”, see notes.
“Currently, Ireland is very dependent on gas imports with about 90% of our gas coming from the UK, which raises concerns around our security of supply, particularly in the event hard Brexit. The proposed Shannon LNG terminal would make a major contribution to meeting gas demand over the coming decades and also open up the area for significant investment in gas intensive industry.
Life away from the desk
Outside of work Kelleher is a keen traveller and tries to tick one bucket list item every year. As a student she spent two summers in the US and after graduating spent a year living in Australia and travelling in South East Asia. At the start of 2016, she took a career break and spent 8 months travelling through South and Central America.
“I particularly loved my time in Colombia and spent a month living in Medellin”, she says. “I found the Colombian people extremely friendly and always willing to help and tell you about their life.
It was also great to see the transformation that has taken place in the City of Medellin and the success of the regeneration. Outside of Medellin, the countryside in Colombia is beautiful; it has so much to offer from jungles, amazing beaches and national parks”.
In her new role Kelleher keeps in touch with future trends that will impact how our region and nation develops in to the future. From a technology perspective, she highlights the Internet of Things is a key emerging trend.
“It is great to see the recently announced funding for the Smart City Initiative which will allow Limerick to further develop our expertise in this area and open up the region to continued investment in technology”, she notes.
“The recently announced Paris Climate Change agreement is once again putting emphasis on our use of resources and the need to reduce emissions. It will be important that the Government continues to support energy efficiency initiatives and that we actively look at ways to be more sustainable across the economy”.
The Limerick pitch
So what would Kelleher say to anyone considering investing in Limerick today?
“Limerick is a great location for investment. With three third level institutions, it is an ideal location for any company that is looking for a young, highly skilled dynamic workforce. The proven track record of collaboration between the third level institution and industry ensures that the graduates are meeting the skills needs for industry.
Limerick also allows easy access to national and international markets. Shannon Airport is a key attraction for many FDI as well as indigenous companies allowing easy access to international markets. Similarly, Shannon Foynes Port as a Ten T port and the largest bulk port in the country is a key asset.
The lifestyle that Limerick offers is also a key attraction for firms looking to establish here.
There is a great sporting culture in Limerick, especially in Rugby. As the home of Munster Rugby, there is always a great buzz around Limerick when a match is on.
The city also offers great restaurants and pubs for socialising, as well as a great shopping experience with plenty of independent stores and the vibrant artisan Milk Market. For families that are locating in Limerick, the city offers excellent schools including the top post primary school in the country according to the Irish Times list of the top 100 schools in Ireland”.