Skibbereen has laid claim to the title of Ireland’s first 1GB town with those behind the digital Ludgate Hub declaring that the venture is a blueprint for the regeneration of rural Ireland.
The digital hub, located in a former bakery and cinema, is due to expand further in the West Cork town and has already attracted users from multinational firms such as Facebook, Google and Pfizer.
More than 400 guests yesterday attended its official launch with Minister for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor, claiming: "As Minister, this is what I want to replicate up and down the country."
The project started just 18 months ago and the building had a soft opening earlier this year. Some €1m has already been invested in the project although there has been no state funding, and it now has 100 active members.
Grainne Dwyer, Ludgate project director, said the Ludgate - named after local man Percy Ludgate, whose scientific work foreshadowed the birth of the computer - has already attracted home some of the Irish tech and business diaspora: "The significance of today is that we were so long pushing this vision, that rural areas can get global operations for themselves."
The hub currently has a mix of one or two people operations as well as members of large firms headquartered in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere. It is also now a base for seed funding for new projects, while 18% of the applicants for a slot in the building are from the Irish diaspora. It was also recently visited by 32 students from New York’s Syracuse University on an innovation tour of Ireland.
Leonard Donnelly, a Ludgate steering group member, said the swift progression of the hub would prove "catalytic" for the town and the area, with plans already in place for Ludgate 2 and Ludgate 3 in Skibbereen.
Guests at yesterday’s launch, which included board member Ronan Harris, who heads up Google’s operations in Ireland, and David Puttnam, Ireland’s digital champion, also heard that a second National Digital Week will take place in Skibbereen in November after last year’s successful event attracted 1,600 visitors.
Businessman John Field said of the christening of Ireland’s first rural digital hub with a 1000MB connection: "Skibbereen today is in a good place", adding that Ludgate will "nurture and enhance that confidence".
Ms Dwyer said that through the online e-street initiative businesses in the town are now able to retail online to anywhere in the world; while Sean O’Driscoll, Glen Dimplex CEO, said: "This is the day that life in West Cork changes forever. Through Ludgate, Skibbereen has levelled the playing field between urban areas and rural towns. This is the model for rural Ireland’s future."
Minister O’Connor expressed a similar view, claiming that initiatives such as Ludgate will act as drivers for the Government’s plan to create 200,000 jobs by 2020 with 135,000 of those to be outside of Dublin and other major urban centres. She also referred to the challenges and opportunities afforded by Brexit, claiming that Ireland is "very much in the game".
"Conversations are being had, deals are being discussed," she said, adding that jobs will follow as the plan was "now being actioned".
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