With Christmas week unfolding around us it is the time of year to sit back, reflect on the year gone and lay out plans and objectives for the year ahead. That template exists not just for individuals but for cities and countries too.
I was indulging in a spot of nostalgia while nursing a pint of stout in Cork’s Mutton Lane Inn on Saturday night. While that place has all the atmosphere that pertained while a student many years ago it is surrounded by a city undergoing rapid change. That change reflects broader cross-currents coursing through Ireland and the modern world.
Just consider the overhaul that has occurred within a stone’s throw of that establishment. The Capitol complex is alive with activity while a new hotel is set to open on the South Mall and a new pedestrian bridge is being built across the River Lee. New commercial properties are full and others are set to open as international companies seize the opportunity provided by an Irish city that functions at a distinctly lower cost base than applies in Dublin.
While new offices and hotels are popping up, the traditional retail store is under sustained and deep-rooted pressure. Online retailing has exploded and has undermined the function and role of traditional shops.
Amid the sense of growth and expansion in Cork and other cities, it is this retail conundrum that provides the greatest challenge. I can only see mobile devices and online retailers getting bigger and better at providing goods and services to consumers, so something different has to happen if city life is to be rejuvenated.
A root-and-branch review of how to get people back living in cities and occupying the spaces freed up by departing retailers is needed.
The online revolution lies at the heart of so much success in Cork, not least by companies including Apple that are at the forefront of advanced mobile technology. The relative calm in the politics of Ireland, underlined by the extended confidence-and-supply agreement, has not gone unnoticed by international investors. Ireland offers a different beacon for expansionary corporations.
Since the Brexit referendum, foreign investment in the developed world has grown by 4% per year, while in the UK growth has been a paltry 1%. That relative difference will possibly widen the longer the Brexit uncertainty lasts.
Ireland, and cities like Cork, are best placed to attract those employers which cannot find sufficient assurances from the UK when planning their Europe-wide strategies.
- Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal