IDA’s Kerry ambitions

The IDA has defended it’s record in rural Ireland and outlined plans for Kerry that included the construction of a new turnkey building for potential investors in Tralee.

ast week the agency published its annual results for 2020 and announced its new four year strategy which has a specific focus on regional development.

The ‘Driving Recovery & Sustainable Growth 2021 – 2024’ plan aims to attract 400 new investors in the period with a target of 118 for the IDA South West region that encompasses Kerry and Cork.

A key aspect of the plan is the provision of new ‘Advanced Building Solutions (ABS)’ around the country.

These are purpose built facilities that are designed to meet the needs of various business sectors and can be offered, on a turnkey basis, to potential investors with only minimal work required to adapt the buildings to meet client’s specific needs.

One of such building – this time referred to as an ‘advance manufacturing facility’ – was completed at Kerry Technology Park in Tralee in March 2017 though it remains vacant.

Now the IDA is proposing to construct a second similar facility in Tralee which has been announced as one of 19 locations nationwide that are set to receive new ABS’s over the four years of the new IDA plan.

While exact location of the planned building has not been revealed it is likely to be on a site adjacent to the existing IDA building at Kerry Technology Park which the agency has access to.

That existing building – built at a cost of €5 million- has become a source of concern locally as it remains empty almost three years after it was officially opened by then Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

In December 2018, Bedford-based Central Pharma – who provide outsourced medicine packaging and supply services – announced that it was to move into the facility.

At the time the company said it would create 100 jobs and invest some €2 million to bring the building up to the required standards, with the high-tech packaging plant expected to be up and running by July 2019.

A year-and-a-half after the plant was due to open, it remains empty and in January 2020 it emerged that the company had told the IDA it was delaying its plans for Tralee.

Since then there has been no official comment on the situation from Central Pharma or the IDA.

The planned plant is not referred to in the new IDA strategy document.

Another curious omission from the plan is Kerry Airport. While Cork Airport is specifically as a “key asset” in attracting investment to the South West – as it provides potential investors with “connectivity” and “ease of access” to the region – there is no mention, whatsoever, of Kerry Airport in the 57 page strategy document.

In the strategy plan the IDA also defend their record on attracting investment to the regions, something that has come in for considerable criticism in Kerry which tends to receive far fewer visit from potential investors than neighbouring counties.

According to the most recent figures, since 2016 the IDA’s Kerry representatives – who are primarily Cork based – brought 28 potential investors to Kerry. In the same period it brought 251 to Cork and 201 to Limerick.

By the end of November 2020 just one IDA site visit had taken place in Kerry. While a reduction in visits in last year could be expected due to Covid-19, this sole visit to Kerry contrasts with 22 in Cork and 18 in Limerick in the same time period.

At the announcement of the new 2021 to 2024 Strategy IDA Ireland’s Head of Regional Business Development, Anne-Marie Tierney-Le Roux defended the agency’s record outside the major cities.

“47per cent of IDA Ireland’s client base, 755 clients, are located in the regions, employing 144,689 people, which is 56 per cent of overall FDI employment. Our focus on regions continues to pay off and it is most encouraging that investment continued at this level into the regions in 2020, despite the upheaval caused by the global pandemic,” said Ms Tierney-Le Roux.

“Our focus on regions will continue in our new strategy – our objective is to win half of the 800 target investments for regional locations,” she added.

At present there are close to 2,000 people employed at IDA supported companies in Kerry while around 300 jobs have been lost at IDA client companies in the county in the last two years.

The largest of these job losses came at the Borg Warner Plant in Tralee the closure of which, and the loss of all 210 jobs, was announced last July.

News of the closure – and the loss of 10 per cent of all IDA supported employment in Kerry – caught the agency and Government completely off guard. – News