The success of the Ludgate Hub has benefits that go way beyond those who work there, writes CEO Adrienne Harrington
Much is heard about the rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), with a debate as to whether the €3bn cost provides good value-for-money, particular for delivery in rural Ireland.
At the same time, government policy is targeting job creation outside Dublin in an effort to deliver more balanced regional development.
Skibbereen is Ireland’s first 1GB town, selected as a pilot town by SIRO, a joint venture company between ESB and Vodafone to deliver a 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network. Before this development, Skibbereen was like many rural towns, with very low level broadband, and some areas having no fibre connection.
This high-speed 1000MB connectivity has been transformative for the town, with the Ludgate Hub being at the centre of developments. The Hub was opened in 2016, with 70 desks incorporating both a co-working space and a number of individual offices.
Ludgate is now home to 58 full-time members, with 12 hotdesking spaces available for less regular users. These hotdesks are regularly booked out, especially during the holiday season with holidaymakers extending their break in West Cork by using the facility.
Ludgate is home to a wide range of businesses, all facilitated by the 1GB connectivity. These include companies involved in travel-tech, bio-economy, aviation services, e-commerce, legal services, film-making, video production, graphic design, digital media and cyber security.
In keeping with an increasing trend for expanding companies to locate teams outside the cities, we have two Dublin-based companies whose only Irish second site locations are in Ludgate.
One of these, xSellco, provides solutions to on-line retailers who sell across multiple platforms, and have located their support services in Skibbereen. Another is SixWest, an aviation services company with offices in Dublin, Malta, the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong, which has located a team in Ludgate that has grown from one person to seven over the past two years.
Both of these companies have benefitted from lower business costs, as well as the wider availability of talent in the region, with attrition rates being considerably lower than those facing companies in the cities.
The high-speed broadband has allowed a number of remote workers to call Ludgate ‘home’, people working across a number of sectors, including law and technology whose employers are based in Cork, Dublin and the UK.
They escape the daily commute to the city, using the facilities in the Hub to communicate with their colleagues and clients. The connectivity has attracted a large number of people who have chosen to run their businesses from the Hub, both startups and other more- established companies.
A recent report for Vodafone by the economist Jim Power estimates that the jobs at Ludgate contribute €4.2m annually to the local economy, a significant impact in a small rural community.
Phase 2 of the Ludgate development will see the opening of a second hub in Skibbereen next year on the site of a former girls’ school, with a further 150 jobs to be created on that site. Three new staff are being recruited by the Ludgate to drive our job creation programme, with another working on our schools outreach programme.
Putting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and digital skills at the core of the curriculum is a key target for us, working with local primary and second levels schools to ensure that we develop the talent of the future.
The gigabit connectivity has had a transformative effect on Skibbereen and has enabled companies here to have a global presence.
Spearline is a Skibbereen-based company that provides testing of toll and toll-free numbers on a worldwide basis. The company has grown from 20 employees three years ago to over 70 today.
It has recently opened a new headquarters in the town, turning the former Christian Brothers school into a modern workspace where they plans to create a further 75 jobs by the end of 2020.
Local furniture-making business O’Donnell Design has found a niche in manufacturing bespoke furniture for the 5-star hotel sector as well as for luxury cruise liners, and has hired an additional 17 staff as a result of new business that they have taken on as a result of the connectivity.
Three years ago, it would take up to 24 hours to download one CAD file, and while they downloaded it, no other email could be sent or received.
Today files are downloaded in seconds.
Local businessman Morgan O’Driscoll has transformed his business model, being the first Irish art auctioneer to move to online auctions. Over 30% of his client base is now overseas.
Previously it took him an hour and a half to upload images to his website; this is now done in seconds. The high-speed connectivity has transformed tech businesses as would be expected, but companies like O’Donnells and O’Driscolls demonstrate its impact on the wider business community.
The reality is that having access to high-speed broadband connectivity means that businesses can now be based in any location; attract and retain local skills, knowledge and talent, and compete on a level playing field with national and international organisations.
Over 140 direct jobs have been created in Skibbereen as a result of the connectivity, with more indirect employment created in local cafes, restaurants, bars, shops etc.
And the impact is being felt not just in Skibbereen town, but in the dozen or so small, thriving communities in the local villages such as Leap, Ballydehob, Glandore, Union Hall and Schull as well as further afield across the region in Bantry, Dunmanway and Clonakilty, where many of those working in Skibbereen are living.
This is bringing a cash injection to these smaller communities as well as contributing to their sustainability, a challenge facing many towns in rural Ireland.
Over 15 families have moved or relocated to Skibbereen and its environs in the past 18 months, attracted by the high-quality jobs on offer as well as the quality of life.
They tell of escaping the daily commuting nightmare; lower housing costs; ready availability of school places; lower childcare costs; spectacular scenery; and very importantly, being part of a vibrant community and having the time to enjoy it.
High-speed broadband is clearly having a positive effect on economic development in Skibbereen, providing a viable alternative to the pressures on our cities. It is giving people real choice and contributing to a sustainable future in West Cork.
Adrienne Harrington is chief executive of Ludgate