OVER the last decade, Clare has received very little Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), but that is likely to change in the next two years, according to Shannon Group CEO, Matthew Thomas.
Mr Thomas, who was appointed in May, said there is now plenty of interest in investing in the Mid West, with results likely to be seen in 2017 and 2018.
At the launch of the upgraded Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Mr Thomas noted, “In my short time as CEO, there have been some very exciting enquiries. It is an uncertain world we are living in with Brexit and global political events at the moment. People are a bit nervous but we would be very hopeful that there is more FDI coming, if not in 2017, in 2018.”
While Shannon Group has a large property portfolio right across the Mid West, the Free Zone is its top priority for now. “I think our immediate focus is on developing the offering in the Free Zone. I think there has been a long period of under-investment.”
Norwegian Air has said it will introduce a transatlantic service from Shannon. “As you can imagine, there is a lot of discussions taking place at the moment, so we are limited in what we can say. We are very excited about the Norwegian model, making transatlantic travel affordable to all. It’s looking good for a 2017 start. We are hopeful that, early in the new year, we will be able to say ‘this is what’s going to happen’.”
Shannon is in the fortunate position to have US pre-clearance customs and border protection facilities, something Mr Thomas described as “a massive advantage” for the airport. He said there are “compelling reasons” why Norwegian would wish to use it.
“The key is all airlines start up and see how things perform. Norwegian has a huge number of aircraft on order, so they’re a good airline to be partnered with but it’s really going to be about how we, the people of Clare, use it.”
The revamped facilities at Bunratty are helpful to driving tourism, he noted. “We should be really proud. I think there is a lot more that we can and are looking forward to doing over the years ahead. I think we must challenge ourselves to make it better and keep growing the numbers here and use it as a tool to give airlines confidence that they should come to Clare.”
Mr Thomas said there are a lot of plans for the near future.
“We have significant plans across our group, some that we are able to talk about, some not so much right now. It’s a multi-million investment across Shannon Heritage, within the airport and also in our property division. What is it we’re trying to do? We want more people to live and work in the region and more tourists to come to the region. The exciting thing for me, as CEO, is that there is such natural alignment that could be Pat Dowling’s [Clare County Council chief executive] objective, or Conn Murray’s objective in Limerick. You get that sense of coming together as a region to drive more people to live and work here and also to drive more tourism,” he stated.