Industrial jobs slide curbed in region, finds report

A THREE-YEAR slide in industrial job numbers in the Mid-West was halted in 2004, according to Shannon Development's annual report, published yesterday.

Shannon Development has responsibility for promoting indigenous enterprises in the region and all industry in the Shannon Fee Zone.

Employment numbers in those industries in 2004 stood at 19,739, generating €4.4 billion in sales; exports worth €3.1bn and economic expenditure of just under €2bn.

Last year, according to the report, 1,521 jobs were created in Shannon Development-supported industry, while 1,492 jobs were lost, representing a marginal gain of 29 jobs.

This is the first time since 2000 that the Mid-West industrial jobs figure was in the black, after accumulated losses of almost 1,500 jobs between 2001 and 2003.

And Shannon Development said one of the new strategies they want to pursue is to create a European and US gateway at the Shannon industrial zone for China's burgeoning industrial empire.

Shannon Development chief executive Kevin Thompstone said strong links had been forged between Shannon and China since the former president, Jiang Zemin, came to Shannon Development over 25 years ago and spent two weeks studying how the company operated.

Mr Thompstone said the company model was used by Zemin when developing industrial promotion agencies throughout China.

Shannon Development chairman Liam McElligott said: "If you don't visualise you can't actualise. We want to see Chinese companies with a presence in Shannon using it as a gateway to Europe and North America."

He said Shannon would be an ideal R&D location for Chinese industry embarking on world markets.

The report said the roll-out of key infrastructure projects in the Shannon Airport catchment area must be accelerated.

Of particular importance, said the report, is the provision of a high-quality motorway from Shannon to Galway, giving a 50-minute travel time. The completion of the tunnel road crossing under the Shannon at Limerick was also crucial.

The report added: "The Western Rail Corridor must be prioritised by reopening the rail line between Ennis and Galway and developing a spur into Shannon Airport from the Ennis-Limerick line."

Mr Thompstone said they had completed 63k of broadband at a cost of €6 million in the greater Limerick city area. The original plan was for 58k at a projected cost of €8m.

He said they had managed to complete the Limerick installation ahead of time and below cost by piggybacking on other projects, such as the Limerick Main Drainage and Souther Ring Road projects.

Mr Thompstone said it was equally important that broadband be widely available in rural areas and not just in the main centres of population.

He said: "This is not just a case of being nice to rural communities, it is critically important. Many workers in companies such as Dell live in rural areas and multinational corporations have to be confident that their workers will be able to work from home at any particular time through broadband."

He stressed the importance of Shannon Development's asset base in order to function.

The Government has been contemplating handing over Shannon Development's factory units in the Shannon Free Zone to the new Shannon Airport Authority to give the authority an income base.

These buildings yield around €10m in rental income a year and Shannon Development insists it cannot afford to lose this asset.

On the tourism front, for which the company has responsibility in the Mid-West, the report said the arrival of a number of low-cost airlines to Shannon presented new opportunities for tourism in the Mid-West and Western Regions.

A study commissioned by the Irish Tourist Industry Federation, published last week, found a huge 39% slump in Mid-West short-stay holidays between 1999 and 2004.

But the report said that last year, 625,000 people paid into day-visitor attractions such as Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, an increase of 6% on 2003.

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