Ashbourne Chamber of Commerce is currently involved in preparing a submission for the Meath development plan that they hope will make a significant boost to jobs in the area.
Mr Kevin O’Brien of the Ashbourne Chamber explained how they hoped to realise their primary goals to increase the amount of investment in Ashbourne thus make it easier for businesses to start up and hence making Ashbourne a destination more attractive for larger scale businesses, and essentially more jobs.
“The ultimate goal of our own strategy and the strategy of Meath County Council is to increase employment in the area through economic development. That’s going to be a hallmark of the economic strategy for all the County Councils going forward following the reforms in local government,” explained Mr O’Brien.
The Ashbourne Chamber has identified four main areas which Ashbourne needs to put more emphasis on.
The first point to be addressed is Broadband and its quality.
O’Brien noted that Ashbourne does have broadband but it doesn’t have the same level of broadband infrastructure in terms of bandwidth that would be necessary to attract a large scale investor into the town. “The current infrastructure is simply insufficient to meet the needs of a call centre or a business such as that. That’s something that we are hoping to be able to change in conjunction with our representatives in the near future.”
The second issue would relate to tax incentives. “It’s good news that other areas in Meath have tax incentives … which means that they will have certain tax incentives for businesses setting up there and that’s good news for us because it’s good news for Meath, and there may be some spillover. However, it does create an issue where we are at somewhat of a competitive disadvantage.”
That is an issue but not a new one that Ashbourne has had to contend with because there have been tax incentives in the midlands for a long time, explained Mr O’Brien.
Access to a suitable location for large companies such as a business park, needs to be addressed.
“Say for example Dell wants to move into Ashbourne tomorrow or eBay or any of these guys. Where would you put them? Quite simply the answer is nowhere because we don’t have any suitable locations for them. A lot of these companies don’t want a greenfield site; they prefer to have something they can just move into,” said Mr O’Brien. Currently there is no IDA park in Ashbourne either. “Part of what we will have to do as a private body is to see if can we solicit any developers into creating that [location] now; that would have to be done in tandem with our other defined issues. So when everything is in place, it will be a place for people to come into.”
Another issue identified by Mr O’Brien was water pressure. “I’m sure many of your readers are aware of the water campaign going on in Ashbourne. It was a big issue during the local elections; one of the main issues facing Ashbourne is that the trunk pipe from Stamullen which carries Ashbourne’s supply is old and antiquated. There is quite a lot of leakage from it, which creates water pressure issues for some estates in Ashbourne.” Mr O’Brien feels that this issue is hindering further residential developments in Ashbourne which he feels would be required to attract more workers into the location to service any potential multinational companies. “Anybody familiar with the housing market in Ashbourne at the moment will realise that it is very hard to find a property … Our big fear would be that this might deter large companies.”
Mr O’Brien thinks that if the above issues are sorted then Ashbourne will be in a far better place to solicit investment.
Key Aspects to Labour Market in Ashbourne
Mr O’Brien explained that Meath County Council would have recognised three aspects to the labour market in Meath. Firstly, the people who live and work locally in Meath. The second would be those who commute out of the county into Dublin, which according to O’Brien would include the majority of people in Ashbourne. Then there are the people who commute into Meath.
“One of our key strengths for Ashbourne is the fact that we have quite a lot of highly educated people commuting to Dublin. If we could get jobs for these people in Ashbourne that would be our goal as well. Also again it means that if we do set something up that requires highly-skilled labour then it means that there is a pool of people there in Ashbourne already. We are close to universities here and have great access to education, so the issue for us at the moment in terms of the development plan is using the opportunity to put the conditions in place to attract investment which will create employment. That’s our plan,” said Mr O’Brien who added that Retail Excellence Ireland came up with a great slogan, “Grow your town to grow your business,” which, Mr O’Brien said, is essentially a strategy that the Chamber is perusing at the moment.
It’s a long-term path
The members of the Chamber of Commerce have been talking about these issues for ten years and according to Mr O’Brien, “It’s been very hard to get anything done; we are hoping that will change particularly with regards to local government.” Mr O’Brien was referring to the reform of local government and the fact that Ashbourne now has its own electoral district. “We had a meeting with our councillors, some of our TDs and Senators recently. It was highly positive to see everybody in the room all pulling for Ashbourne. We have never had that level of representation before. We are hoping that our councillors will be able to work together and something positive will come out of that. Hence, we will be able to push these issues more now where we weren’t able to do so before.”
The development plan is long-term and will take Ashbourne up until 2022. The scope is long-term. The Ashbourne Chamber is in the process of making its submission to Meath County Council; they will take Ashbourne’s submission on board and will publish a draft for the councillors in Ashbourne.