HOME to over 100 companies and with more than 7,000 employees working there, Shannon Free Zone is one of the largest clusters of indigenous industry outside of Dublin.
This week, former senator and county councillor Tony Mulcahy said he feels things are going in the right direction but local Councillor Gerry Flynn has far more reservations about what has been happening there.
“Smithstown is full, you can’t get a place to park. There are a good few units available in the industrial estate but a lot of what is there is not great. That is a legacy issue, it wouldn’t exactly be a State secret. They have applied to build new units. The top two bays at the industrial estate have been flattened now, they are in for planning there for office space and small industry,” said Mr Mulcahy.
He said, at the moment, because of a lack of improvements over a number of years, Shannon is not in a great position to host new investment.
“People ask why companies don’t come in? I think we lost the Zimmer expansion because there wasn’t a turn-key premises available of the size they needed. There are challenges but in fairness to the management company, I saw a place up there the other day that has just been taken, quite a few units have been occupied. There are fewer car-parking spaces at a lot of places now, which is a good thing. A lot of the existing companies have taken on quite a substantial number of people. The likes of GE Sensing have put on a big extension at the back. Modular Automation put on an extension as well, they increased the number of employees and they can’t talk highly enough of the help they have been getting from Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Group.”
Improvements have been made since Shannon Group took over from Shannon Development, the Limerick-born businessman believes.
“The industrial estate, you can drive around it now and see the way it has been cleaned. All the scrub is gone, it’s landscaped, manicured, there are new pathways put in. It is alive and you could rent places out now. A few years ago, it was falling asunder but there has been a huge amount of work done.”
He said traffic to and from the industrial estate is very busy now and, overall, he is “very happy with how it is going”.
Independent Councillor Flynn, however, was not as positive. He said he is looking for more of an influence for Clare’s local representatives.
“I have put a request to the Taoiseach that Clare County Council would have a representative on Shannon Commercial Properties, so we could have some degree of influence on how the industrial estate and the airport would develop. I got a reply – the Taoiseach has handed it over to Minister Shane Ross.”
He feels the creation of Shannon Group, which runs the airport as well as the old Shannon Development property portfolio and a number of tourist attractions, might not be the best vehicle for local industrial development.
“You have a high percentage of vacancies in the industrial estate, which isn’t good. With the loss of Shannon Development, they were fully focused on job creation. With the portfolio of Shannon Group, it’s wide and expansive and they have an airport to keep going as well. It might be an undue burden to put on Shannon Group to ask them to run an airport and to manage a property portfolio. It may not have been the wisest of decisions. To run an airport and keep it open is a mammoth task. On top of that then to have a property portfolio that you are supposed to raise enough money to subsidise activity in the airport.”
Overall, he feels Shannon is no longer developing in the way it could be.
“Really and truly there has not been any big announcement in Clare for many years, not just in the industrial estate. It’s not that I want to be negative but I don’t think we can afford to be complacent here in the west. The airport and the industrial estate would be an integral part of job creation and prosperity.
“When I came here back in the 1970s, the place was buzzing, the airport was buzzing. At one stage we were talking about competing with Ennis, the population was increasing so quickly. It has just gone stagnant, it has stalled,” he concluded.
By Owen Ryan