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Tim Lucey explains why the world’s leading companies choose to operate from Cork.
Cork Harbour is one of the finest natural harbours in the world and one of our country’s greatest assets.
Since the founding of Cork as a monastic settlement in the 6th century and as an early settlement in the 10th century, Cork Harbour has transitioned from its original shipping and trading role, via a significant military role, to become a thriving social, cultural and economic hub.
Recent decades have seen a clear economic transition of the harbour area from heavy manufacturing to pharmaceutical processing, energy generation and education/research, all the while retaining a critical commercial shipping role and the presence of one of Ireland’s foremost economic ecosystems.
The harbour area has uniquely evolved into a focal point for key global industries such as the pharmaceutical and ICT sectors and the harbour economy offers access to an existing global economic knowledge and innovation network.
This network provides the region with unique opportunities for economic growth and diversification.
Ireland’s only oil refinery is located within the harbour at Whitegate, while local energy generation opportunities continue to be targeted and expanded to support local industries.
This thriving harbour economy is also a distinct spatial entity, consisting of a population of 72,000 living in the five county metropolitan towns surrounding the harbour waters — Cobh, Carrigaline, Passage West, Midleton and Carrigtohill.
Employment within these harbour towns is further complemented by the strategic harbour employment locations of Little Island, Ringaskiddy and Whitegate.
The success of the harbour area as a place to live and work is reflected in the harbour population growing at double the national rate over the past 30 years.
This growth has been sustained by targeted public and private investment into infrastructure, housing and employment.
Project Ireland 2040 outlines how Cork County could grow its population to 436,488 with growth targets providing for an additional 63,000 jobs.
According to the 2016 census, there are 93,451 jobs in Cork County, of which 29,171 are based in the harbour area.
Critically, 67% of this harbour area population are under 45, while over 300,000 persons live within a 45 minute journey time of the harbour.
The economic performance of Cork is extremely strong and plays a critical role in both regional and national economies.
Cork contributes 19% to the National GDP and productivity within the Cork Metropolitan Region is comparable with that of London City and higher than that of Dublin City (Urban Europe Statistics on cities, towns and suburbs, 2016).
The Cork harbour economy GDP per capita continues to perform above the State average and the potential exists to grow this figure by an additional 20% through private and public sector collaboration and targeted future interventions.
Significant opportunities exist to build on this harbour area economic success story and the wider county metropolitan area within which it is located.
It is the most compelling opportunity in the Southern Region of Ireland for growth through leveraging the unique global harbour economic network.
Assets such as the existing suburban rail network, the plans of the Dunkettle Interchange and the M28 motorway to Carrigaline and Ringaskiddy, ongoing investment in access improvements to Little Island, further development of the N25 East Cork Parkway and future public realm improvements to all harbour towns will unlock some of the most strategically located land development opportunities in Ireland.
Cork County has a proven track record in delivering on national targets, demonstrated in the period from 1996 to 2016 where Cork County grew by more than 120,000 persons and employment grew by over 60,000.
Cork County Council ensured this growth was achieved while maintaining an extremely high standard of living, with 92% of residents stating in a 2015 survey that their local area is a great place to live.
Furthermore, in collaboration with national infrastructure agencies, Cork County Council has delivered key large scale infrastructure assets to the region, such as the N40 national road, Jack Lynch tunnel, suburban rail line and lower harbour drainage scheme.
Through its enhanced role in economic development, Cork County Council also recognises that in addition to new physical infrastructure capacity, there is also a critical need to provide supports to business operations.
Cork County Council is at an advanced stage of preparation to engage with businesses and industry within the Cork harbour economy in order to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges they are facing and the opportunities that present, thereafter to identify the short and medium term interventions that can be targeted collaboratively to remove operational barriers and provide opportunities for further economic growth.
By working closely with all stakeholders within the harbour economy as well as ensuring policy and investment alignment with key national agencies, Cork County Council has a track record in delivery and supporting economic growth and will aim to further build on both its delivery and advocacy role to further enhance the regional and national economic asset that is Cork harbour economy.