CREATING the environment to deliver an additional 4,000 jobs in Clare over the next five years is one of the ambitious targets set by the Clare County Council chief, Pat Dowling.
Next Monday, Mr Dowling officially starts his seven-year term, with the possibility of a three-year extension, as the council’s new chief executive officer.
In an exclusive interview with The Clare Champion, Mr Dowling has outlined a number of key economic objectives, which will help to transform the county, if they are successfully implemented during his term of office.
Asked if he feels the target of 4,000 is achievable, Mr Dowling said that, while it is ambitious, “If you don’t go for it, you don’t get there.”
He added, “Tipperary thought that Kilkenny were favourites to win the All-Ireland title but they annihilated them. Clare has to do the same. Clare has to show it can punch above its weight in the region. Instead of saying Clare is not getting its fair share of foreign direct investment, we have to go out there and get it. This will not be achieved unless it is underpinned by an economic strategy.”
Mr Dowling has already met with IDA chiefs in the region, who are extremely interested in working with the local authority to bring foreign direct investment into Clare. He is hopeful that a number of interesting investment opportunities to create more jobs in Clare will come on stream in the coming years.
The 54-year-old father-of-six will replace Tom Coughlan, who retired a few months ago, after 40 years of local authority service, of which 28 were in senior management. The position of the most senior council official comes with a salary of €133,072 per annum.
Acknowledging that Clare requires more foreign direct investment, he believes this can be achieved if the authority adopts a “can-do” attitude and a progressive approach, in terms of securing substantial investment.
Clare has 68 foreign direct investment companies and 56 of them are in Shannon.
“Clare County Council needs to lead the charge to ensure there is more balanced development throughout the county,” he said.
He said the new IDA regional director, Niall O’Callaghan, is very ambitious for Clare and he pledged to ensure that this ambition would continue.
Mr Dowling said the local authority and other State agencies need to engage fully with the local business community and market the county as a great place to work and live.
“I remember dealing with Regeneron before they came to Limerick and asking them what they needed to be provided in an area. It wasn’t just about providing new jobs and infrastructure in an area. Quality of life issues are important as well. I believe the council can do a lot to bring about improvements in education and environment.
“Clare is a wonderful county to live and work in. Tourism is great and wonderful but we need balanced development. Tourism will continue to grow in Clare and we may even start to have capacity issues. We need to focus on developing the non-tourism sector.
“We need to look at attracting other jobs. Limerick have promoted the pharmaceutical and financial services industry; why can’t we build on that and create a regional economic strategy?” he said.
“Business isn’t just about your big American biopharmaceutical company. There is a lot of potential in cottage industries and working at home and I have already spoken to the IDA about this. A person in Labasheeda should be able to process financial payments for an American company with proper broadband. One of the big issues for West Clare is broadband connectivity.
“It is not about my town or your town, it should be that the Mid-West is the region to do business in and Clare will benefit from that strategy. Clare, to me, is the meat in the sandwich; it is the quality product. I think we need to be more positive around that approach. The IDA are telling me that, with the right approach, Clare can get its fair share,” he added.
Mr Dowling believes it is very important that Clare, in its totality, is developed through an economic strategy for the next 20 years. This needs to be on the basis of an overall economic strategy for Clare and how it can build on developments in Limerick and Galway.
He stressed that the Mid-West needs to work together as a region to counterbalance the development on the East Coast. This would involve selling the region as a package, offering great quality of life, education and other services when a major foreign direct investment company is making decisions about where to locate.
Stating that global urbanisation is now a reality of life, he stressed this does not mean that Ennis or Shannon cannot benefit from development.
Emphasising the need for balanced development throughout Clare, he expressed concern that a lot of the service and retail jobs are tourism dependent and therefore seasonal.
When council officials and other representatives of State agencies go abroad to promote the county, he stressed that it is important to promote the region for economic development and not to take a county focus.
Business representatives in Ennis and Shannon, in particular, have complained that traders are paying too much in commercial rates to the council for years and need to see more reductions in order to remain viable.
Acknowledging the “ongoing tension” around commercial rates between the business community and local authority, he said he would discuss this issue with business representatives.
“A high percentage of rates paid by business in Clare is under €5,000 annually. Clare depends a lot on large companies for funding. This debate will be heated over the coming months.
“There are rates’ rebates schemes in Clare. We will be looking at these and other schemes to try and help business. Looking at rates in isolation doesn’t present a true picture,” he said.