Every person who is native to the south east of Ireland struggles to understand why our region was the worst hit by the recession of 2008 to 2013.
Unemployment in the region exceeded 20% in 2012 compared to the national average of 15%, and in certain areas of the region unemployment continues to be stubbornly high.
Recently, we’ve seen further reverberations from the recession that have added to the toll that the south east has suffered since the recession began.
Mothercare in Waterford and Best Menswear in Carlow have both entered examinership.
With common sense on the part of landlords involved, it would be hoped that there can be some light at the end of the tunnel for the employees whose livelihoods depend on those outlets.
The region can ill afford further job losses as it seeks to avoid being left as just a footnote of the much vaunted national recovery story.
At the coalface, in discussions with SME clients around Co Wexford or working as examiner to companies in difficulty; there is now a small but noticeable increase in business confidence, even though that sentiment has not translated into hard numbers just yet.
Mind-sets are starting to shift towards “gearing back up” in local businesses; taking on perhaps one additional part-time member of staff or looking to reinvest and spruce up the business premises.
There is a grudging acceptance that recovery was always going to start in the major urban centres of Dublin and Cork before slowly spreading through Wicklow and Waterford into Wexford.
However, the pace of recovery is frustratingly slow for many. Fatigue has set in for some who have survived the recession by working 70 and 80 hours per week but are struggling to find the energy to go on to survive the recovery.
Disposable incomes are still low and this year’s budget, if it is to carry some pre-election sweeteners, cannot come quickly enough for most SMEs.
The medium to long-term prospects, however, are sound for the south east. It is unacceptable that Co Wexford had to wait until last week for dual carriageway access to be completed to Dublin but this route now should be a significant boost to the businesses of Wexford, especially in the north of the county.
The usage of the motorway from Dublin to Waterford by business people has shown the benefits that increased connectivity can bring.
Economic recovery for the south east will be based on business people in the region looking to take their products and services outside the region and increased connectivity is the crux of that strategy.
Rosslare, Waterford and New Ross Ports provide a competitive advantage that many regions would dearly love to possess.
However, Co Wexford has a competitive advantage when it comes to business that has gone untapped to date and in my view could be the county’s secret weapon in speeding up the pace of recovery.
In recent weeks I met with clients from India who are in the process of setting up a new business they hope will employ 60 people in Co Wexford.
They had explored the other low corporate tax locations of Europe including the Baltic states and had settled on Ireland. I was fascinated as to why they chose Wexford.
The answer they gave was so simple that it left me astounded; they said they googled the warmest place in Ireland and the search told them that was Co Wexford.
“We are used to the sun shining,” the managing director told me.
Co Wexford has won these new foreign direct investment jobs first and foremost because it records the most hours of sunshine in Ireland.
In my view the county needs to utilise whatever advantages it has at its disposal and although Wexford is well used to advertising itself as a holiday county and the “Sunny South East”, I believe it is high time we use this advantage for FDI also, particularly FDI from the warmer BRIC countries seeking their first European hub.
It is a string to Wexford’s bow that is yet to be played.
Neil Hughes is managing partner of Hughes Blake Chartered Accountants in Enniscorthy, Cork and Dublin. He is also Wexford Business Person of the Year 2015.
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