Small business column: IDA is one of the best job-generating organisations Ireland has had

This week Kehlan Kirwan asks whether we’ve become too reliant on it and whether its ‘silver bullet’ dependencies hide a lack of innovative thinking.

When you’re down and out you’re always looking for a saviour. 

Something or someone to come along and turn everything around.

To mix that magic potion that will set things right in a puff of smoke.

For Ireland the IDA has been seen as that.

At an economic low point every announcement of jobs, or a global company set-up, delivered a boost to a country reeling from a heavy fall from grace.

We craved the good news, it made us think people still believed in us. Companies wanted to come and set-up here and it has been wonderful to see it.

It has, however, ensured that Ireland has become addicted to its own supply.

That a global company setting up in an area is the answer to the economic problems. 

Everybody wants an IDA company in their town and they’ll fall over themselves to make sure it happens.

Forget the small businesses on the high street or start-ups looking for new office space in order to expand, we need an FDI (foreign direct investment) company.

Getting an FDI company into a local area appears to be the only thing that some places are depending on. There is no real economic strategy unless it’s getting FDIs.

We’re not building companies, we’re buying them in.

Recently in Longford, we saw the massive impact that this can have on a community. Cameron, producers of oil and gas subsea equipment, announced that 170 jobs were to go at the plant.

Phased out through 2017. Although it will still keep an R&D facility there, it is cold comfort to employees and the area.

Many communities depend so heavily on one major employer that all other policies are of no consequence.

Longford is about to find that out the hard way. Derek Scanlon, president of the local chamber of commerce, said there appears to be “no regional focus” with the town in danger of being left behind.

“If you ask someone from the IDA how they promote Longford Town they will tell you, ‘we don’t promote Longford at all, we promote the region’; and therefore Longford gets lost,” he said.

My first initial response was ‘of course they don’t have a strategy for Longford, its Longford’.

Forty minutes from a motorway and slap bang in the middle of nowhere. Center Parcs say they’ll be opening a ‘Longford Forest’ destination, but it won’t be ready until 2019.

Well maybe there is something there after all. The question is why it took a company from outside Ireland to see it.

Too many communities chase after the proverbial silver bullet. That one company that can solve their problems. 

Too many ignore what they have, only to be told that what have can work.

A number of years ago I went to a CEDRA meetup in Scariff, East Clare.

The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas was supposed to look at how areas develop their own economic strategies.

It was an interesting night with a lot of ideas and problem solving. People wanted to help their area. 

I plan to go back and see what has actually happened there since then. CEDRA wrote their report and delivered it.

I’m guessing since their website has nothing past the year 2013 that not much came from it.

Maybe it was gobbled up by that most elusive of creatures, The Action Plan For Jobs.

So, if we really are looking for an outside answer to community’s problems then let’s do that.

There is a rural place in Alberta, Canada. Sangudo is a community in the great sprawling country that is Canada.

It had a big problem. People were leaving their town, jobs were leaving their town.

Money was leaving their town. I was intrigued by the story, sent a few emails and finally got on the phone. I wanted to understand how they turned it around.

They grew concerned at the closures and loss that their community was facing.

Then, when a local school announced that it was going to close it became the last straw. The full confirmation that the town was dying out.

So they decided to invest. They invested in themselves. Quite literally. The town and its people put money into the Sangudo Co-op Company and began to get the money together to take on its blight.

Neighbours and local people decided to finance their own recovery.

A local meatpacker was selling up, but could find no buyers.

So the Co-op bought the building and the company and took it over. They did the same with a coffee shop on their main street. 

It was a town fighting back, they were invested in now. They had something to move on with, a future.

They raised more money to match government grants and today the company employs nearly twenty people.

When it was bought it had just two. It became the blueprint for communities across Canada.

From Dun Laoghaire to Ballinasloe, everybody wants a multinational saviour.

But that is all too rare a thing.

The realities are that it’s hard to compete with a Dublin or a Galway, the attractions of the big city are too big to ignore.

But the solutions for communities lie within themselves.

Relying on one big company to solve the problems of the community just won’t happen with a lot of areas around Ireland.

Societies now see their future in the big towns and cities, the rest are left to their own devices.

Politicians will perhaps talk a good game, but Longford you and I both know the score.

It’s not an amicable break; it’s them, not you.

I mean they love you, but they’re not ‘in’ love with you.

No one will get you through this but you. It’s time to stop looking for a silver bullet.

Our obsessive need for IDA companies has left us cold and sterile on innovative thinking.

We expect saviours when there are none coming. Communities need to look within themselves for the answers to their own questions.

The IDA is a marvellous organisation but it can’t help everybody.

We need better thinkers in local areas to create the prospects of their own future.

There is no magic here, no puff of smoke.

There are only realities, anything else is just an illusion.


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