UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 5 Kerry requires blue-sky thinking
In the final part of our series on Munster unemployment, Donal Hickey finds that traditional industries have left Co Kerry and a fresh approach is needed
IT’S an appalling statistic by any standard — jobless numbers in Kerry are now up 10,000, or more than 150%, from 10 years ago.
Creating jobs in Kerry has always been a challenge. The unemployment rate in the county has been consistently higher than the national average — even during the economic boom — and has surpassed 26% in north Kerry in recent times.
Undoubtedly, Kerry’s peripheral location in the far south-west, coupled with disadvantages in access due mainly to deficiencies in the major road networks leading into the county, is a huge obstacle to attracting industrial investment.
Kerry has suffered greatly from closures of major factories, some of which, such as Burlington and Pretty Polly, once employed more than 1,000 people in towns like Tralee and Killarney, respectively.
Some of the other operations that closed include Imperial Stag and Radlink (formerly Stelrad), in Listowel; Wilson Sports Socks, Caherciveen; Radiac and Aetna, Castleisland; and Amman, Goblin and Swisswire, in Tralee. Alps moved its operations to Millstreet, Co Cork, from Killarney where it once employed around 300 people.
In June, an additional 360 people joined Kerry’s Live Register, a 2.3% increase on the previous month, with a total of 16,003 signing on. The figure for Tralee now stands at a startling 6,823, followed by Listowel on 3,211, Killarney on 2,661, Killorglin 1,316, Caherciveen 647, Dingle 770, and Kenmare 575.
Statistics for the past four years show Kerry has suffered severely from the economic collapse, with numbers out of work doubling in some cases over the period. Comparative figures for Jun 2008 show that 4,049 were on the register in Tralee, 1,507 in Listowel, 1,409 in Killarney, and 658 in Kenmare.
Statistics make for pretty grim reading and show how the jobs scene has worsened in 10 years. In 2002, for instance, a relatively small 6,704 were on the Live Register.
So, in 10 years, more than 10,000 extra people have been thrown out of work, or never got work, in Kerry. The biggest increase, more than 5,000, was recorded in 2008 when the Celtic Tiger went away.
Killarney normally shows an improvement during the tourist season, but Tom Murphy, manager of the town’s centre for the unemployed, reports nothing significant is happening on that front this year.
Another worrying trend is that when jobs are available, employers are offering internships where people work for little, or nothing.
A 21-job Fás listing in Kerry for June shows only four jobs with salary offers. Some positions with blanks in the salary column include a graphic designer, a dental technician, an accountant and a laboratory technician, posts that would normally command decent salaries.
The closed factories have not been replaced in terms of employment numbers and an image of the industrial wasteland could easily be portrayed. The view in Kerry is that large-scale industrial investors want to locate in the bigger urban centres where many other industries are operating and which have a range of third-level institutions.
Long-established operations such as Kerry Group, the food multinational, the Fexco financial services company, and the sprawling Liebherr crane plant, in Killarney, continue to be among the top employers in the county.
The possibility of attracting large-scale, traditional manufacturing enterprises now, or in the future, is seen as remote. Nowadays in Kerry, the growth areas for employment are the hi-tech and information technology sectors, as evidenced by the success of Kerry Technology Park, in Tralee, and Killorglin-based Fexco.
A recent arrival is JRI America, a subsidiary of the Japanese IT financial services company, Japan Research Institute Ltd, which has established a software development operation at the Kerry Technology Park, with the potential to create an estimated 100 highly skilled positions over five years.
The Nurture Kerry Foundation is encouraging entrepreneurship among the young people and its endeavour programme for adult start-ups has created capital value of more than €20m to date.
Tourism continues to be an important employer for thousands of people, especially in places like Killarney, Dingle and Kenmare, but many of those jobs are seasonal.
IDA Ireland is constantly attacked for not doing enough to create jobs in Kerry and has been accused of ‘abandoning’ the county. The IDA, however, is only responsible for foreign direct investment, which accounts of one in seven of all jobs nationally.
Something crying out for action at Government level is the question of grants to overseas companies. Kerry is perceived to be at a disadvantage in that other counties along the West, including Galway, can qualify for better grants, up to 15% of total investment in a project.
Senior Siptu official Andrew McCarthy said the link between Kerry and Cork for industrial promotion has to be broken and Kerry should be given the same status as other poorer counties in the west.
“The point is that Kerry is just as disadvantaged, if not more so, as those counties,” he maintained.
Mr McCarthy, who is based in Tralee, is among those, including several politicians, who claim the IDA has abandoned Kerry. He also believes transport infrastructure is a huge obstacle to attracting investment. He instances the road from Rosslare, via Fermoy; the N22 from Cork, especially the section between Macroom and Ballyvourney, and the road from Limerick which still has bottlenecks in Adare, Newcastlewest and Abbeyfeale.
Kerry has also been bedeviled by false hopes about mooted industrial projects, some of which would supposedly create thousands of jobs. There have been announcements about phantom zinc and oil refineries and trans-shipment terminals for the Shannon Estuary, none of which materialised.
During the last two years, hopes had been built up for a €4.7bn Global Pharmaceutical Centre of Excellence proposed for Tralee. But, a liquidator was appointed last week to Pharmadel, the main supporter of the massive research facility which pledged to create up to 5,000 jobs, killing all hopes.
Many people in Kerry were sceptical about the project from the start. However, it received the backing of leading business, political and local authority figures who felt that, given the county’s desperate unemployment situation, any prospects of job creation had to be supported.
For the past six years, a proposal to build a gas terminal on the Tarbert/Ballylongford landbank has raised hopes in jobs-starved north Kerry. The €500m Shannon LNG project would create around 350 jobs during a four-year construction period and 50 permanent jobs on completion.
But, there are fears the massive project, which has already experienced delays, will not go ahead as the promoters are refusing to pay a tariff on gas interconnectors between Ireland and Britain, as recommended by the Commissioner for Energy Regulation.
Tralee has been one of the country’s unemployment black spots for many years, but an umbrella group formed in April, Tralee Chamber Alliance, aims to give a fresh dynamic to commerce, industry and tourism locally.
Twenty business and community leaders of the town make up the board, each representing a different sector of the local economy.
Retailing has been badly hit in Tralee town centre, where shops and pubs continue to shut down, and one of the group’s tasks will be to rejuvenate trade in the town. A new bypass road, which will ease traffic congestion and divert heavy vehicles away from the town, should be a boost. The 13.5km bypass is due to open in Mar 2013.
While tourism continues to be a key employer in Kerry, foreign nationals account for a large section of the tourism workforce and Mr McCarthy said more thought needs to be given to how the industry can be made attractive to Irish people.
Career prospects and pay were two areas that needed to be examined, he suggested, adding: “You cannot get a quality product based on minimum wages.”
Killarney has for long been the victim of an ingrained perception among Government and job-creation agencies that “it is alright” because of its tourism industry, according to Sean Counihan, chairman of both the Killarney Centre for the Unemployed and Killarney Technology Park.
“Just because it has a big tourism industry, Killarney should not be ignored in relation to industrial jobs. Killarney has lost about 3,000 industrial jobs in the past 15 years. What we need is a good mix of jobs, rather than depending on tourism,” he said.
Killarney Town Council owns a large, unoccupied factory building that once housed the Pretty Polly and Sara Lee industries. One of the suggestions for the building, according to Mr Counihan, is that half of it should be used for start-up enterprises and the other half upgraded to attract a bigger investor.
Overall, an obvious conclusion is that traditional job-creating enterprises, such as large factories, are no longer the solution in Kerry.
It is time for radical new thinking, new types of enterprise and more entrepreneurs.
And one thing is absolutely clear — it’s an utter delusion to think that the IDA has all the answers.
‘Phase out dole and replace it with rewarding work’
By Donal Hickey
Think global — that’s the simple message from one of the country’s leading entrepreneurs who conquered the world from a base in Kerry.
From his early days, Jerry Kennelly had a go-getter’s instinct: As a youngster, he showed enterprise selling burgers from a hut on the streets of his native Tralee during the annual Rose festival.
Having cut his teeth in his family’s photographic/newspaper business, he set up his own photo-news agency at the age of 21, supplying the home and overseas media, before bigger things beckoned.
He is now in demand for talks, mentoring and general advice and is a one of the key drivers of a young entrepreneur programme in which more than 4,000 students have taken part.
Nor is he shy about airing his view on how to create jobs.
“The world has changed and the model has to change,” the former Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur award winner says matter-of-factly. “People must either prepare for emigration, or find a new form of work, and the concept of giving out money for nothing must end.
“We’re a very creative race, capable of conceiving and executing wonderful things that don’t need vast capital, but are labour intensive,” he adds.
Rather than receiving the dole for doing nothing, Mr Kennelly maintains people ought to have the dignity of work and an opportunity to create something of value. He cites possible work on walking and cycling routes as an example.
“Anyone getting money in this country should work 35 hours a week. The dole should be phased out and replaced by proper, dignified rewarding work,” he says.
Now 52 and a multi-millionaire, he has experienced a host of ups and downs, confidently making his way through trial and error and always looking for the buzz that comes from building and succeeding with something new.
In the ’90s, he saw the potential of the internet, setting up Stockbyte to supply photographs in digital form to newspapers and magazines worldwide. Royalty-free images from his vast collection regularly appeared globally in a host of media. After 10 years, he sold the company in 2006 to Getty Images for $135m.
Ever restless, he sought new challenges and started to plough a sizeable chunk of the sale proceeds into researching and developing a company called Tweak.com, again using the internet and his vast experience in media products and design to reach a global market. Tweak.com, based in an old bank building in the heart of Killorglin, employs 30 people, 24 in the Kerry town and six in Dublin. The team is made up of software developers, art workers, designers and business development personnel.
Mr Kennelly believes everybody has a responsibility to invest in their skills and careers on the grounds the world is constantly changing.
“Everybody is affected by globalisation and it’s a case of the meritocracy of the best people. You must keep upping your game all the time, for we’re on a competitive, world stage. There’s no such thing any more as a job forever,” he declares.
In his own business, he emphasises he only wants ‘A’ players.
“In this country, there’s no appetite for truth, but the truth is a lot of people have not minded their own careers and have not upgraded their skillsets at a time when the world was changing around them. I grant some have been unlucky, but people must take responsibility for themselves.”
He thinks some traditional manufacturing industries will survive and may be sustainable “post trade unions”, but claims unions damaged industrial operations over the years.
Always ready to avail of the latest technology, he is convinced the internet will continue to grow and offer many opportunities.
Launched last year after four years of R&D, Tweak.com makes it easy for smaller business owners to create marketing materials online at a fraction of the cost they would normally pay. The atmosphere is workmanlike in the Killorglin HQ, with an emphasis on teamwork. Upwards of €25m has, so far, been invested in Tweak.com and former Stockbyte workers are on the team.
Mr Kennelly spends about half of his time travelling abroad and meeting customers. “We’ve strong personal relationships with customers. It’s all about trust,” he says.
He is confident of clinching some major deals this year, adding there’s big potential for further growth. Agencies under fire for lack of investment
Job-creation agencies, especially IDA Ireland, are regularly criticised for not delivering sufficient jobs to Kerry which, proportionately in national terms, is doing extremely poorly.
Last year, the IDA announced 100 jobs for the Kerry area — in the JRI America Inc project to be based in the Kerry Technology Park, Tralee — whereas 13,000 jobs were delivered nationally.
There were just two IDA-organised visits by potential investors to the county, last year, and no IDA jobs have been announced for Kerry in the first half of this year.
Separately, last year, the Kerry County Enterprise Board, provided €470,000 in grant aid to 46 projects with the potential to create 91 full-time and 58 part-time jobs. These jobs are mainly in areas most unlikely to attract major overseas investors and they help sustain rural communities.
In addition, the board spent €260,000 on a range of other business supports, including business training, marketing, IT skills, design, networking and one-to-one mentoring.
Board chief executive Tomas Hayes pointed out the board is restricted to working with the small business sector employing less than 10 persons and he feels that its role should be broadened to include bigger enterprises.
The board aims to support business initiatives with a view to creating long-term and sustainable employment. There is an emphasis on providing early stage services, including training and mentoring, which are seen as vitally important in the formative stages of a business. Feasibility grants to a maximum of €20,000 are available, as are business priming grants of up to €150,000, while expansion grants for business trading for more than 18 months are also capped at €150,000.
The board also promotes entrepreneurship at second- and third-level institutions, sponsoring an enterprise awards competition for students, while also delivering the county enterprise awards.
Meanwhile, an IDA spokesperson, said one of the main issues they encounter in encouraging investment into locations outside of the large urban centres is the desire of investors to locate in areas with large population bases, usually of more than a million people.
The IDA’s regional strategy is to promote investment to key regional locations outside of Dublin and Cork.
In order to achieve balanced regional development, the IDA says it focuses on promoting gateway locations within each region and highlights the opportunities provided by hub locations within commuting distances of these gateways.
There are seven gateway locations, outside of Dublin and Cork.
In Kerry’s case, IDA markets the linked hub locations of Killarney and Tralee for new inward investment, while promoting other locations as part of its marketing efforts in response to specific client queries.
“IDA always encourages new investors to set up in regional locations.
“However, the client has a wish list of certain criteria that must be filled by a location so, ultimately, the client makes the final decision of what best suits their needs,” the spokesperson pointed out.
As well as the JRI America Inc project, in 2011, Enercon announced 30 new jobs in Tralee, in June 2010, to support wind turbine business.
The IDA also said there are opportunities for job creation in Kerry through the Succeed in Ireland initiative — launched by the Government in March this year — which aims to have 50% of investments from 2010 to 2014 located outside of Dublin and Cork.
At the end of 2011, there were 12 IDA-supported companies in Kerry employing 1,294 permanent staff.
‘Jobs go to young fellows first’Thomas’s story
At 52, Thomas Coffey, feels a definite sense of age discrimination when it comes to getting work.
The Killarney man, who has been unemployed since 2001, says: “If I’m in for a job that younger fellows are also in for, you can be sure the employer will give it to a young fellow first.”
Thomas, who is single, worked in a sawmill and on the outdoor staff of Killarney Town Council doing general work. He also worked on a Fás scheme at Fossa GAA club, outside Killarney.
“One of the worst things about being unemployed is being bored as you’ve nothing much to do all day,” he says.
Thomas says he would like gardening work.
“I don’t have a trade, but I think you’d have a better chance of work if you had a trade,” he said.
Thomas was a home carer for three years for his father, who is now in long-term residential care.
Unlike others out of work, he is not angry and doesn’t blame the Government. “It’s (high unemployment) a sign of the times. Things are very bad in the country and every business is hit by the recession,” he says. “I don’t think the Government can do much more. I think things might be picking up slowly and the bad times won’t last forever.”
‘Only for my son, I’d be in Canada’ Jarlath’s story
Jarlath Flynn, from Killarney, has made up to 40 applications for jobs since becoming unemployed two years ago but, in most cases, has not even received a reply from prospective employers.
The 32-year-old, who has a truck driving licence, says he’s prepared to take any kind of work that’s available at this stage, remarking: “There’s no quality of life when you’re unemployed.”
Jarlath, who has a 16-month-old son, had been working on a delivery truck for a drinks company, for which he also did merchandising, until it closed in 2010.
After that, he worked for a short time for a hardware company until there was a staff reduction because of the recession. He then completed a Fás truck driving course.
“I’ve worked since I was a teenager doing summer and weekend jobs, so it’s strange for me to be out of work. I’ve worked in shops and have driven courier vans,’ he says. “I’ve made over 40 applications since 2010 for a variety of jobs, including kitchen porter, but all I could get was two interviews.
“It scares me when I think of my son and all the things I’d like to do for him. If I’ve no work I won’t be able to do a lot of things for him and that scares me. If I haven’t work I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Jarlath is now on a community employment scheme doing office maintenance working and cleaning. He has considered emigration, but says he doesn’t want to leave his son.
“Only for my son, I’d be over in Canada, or in some other country, because there’s nothing here in Ireland,” he says.
* UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 1 - Ireland's job crisis
* UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 2 - Cork jobless total has trebled since 2005
* UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 3 - Tipperary signs of downturn painfully visible
* UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 4 - Limerick region has potential despite black spots
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