The IDA manager for the midlands region has admitted that Laois has been historically challenged in attracting investment into the county.
Ken Whitelaw has just taken over as Midlands Regional Manager with the IDA and spoke recently with Will Faulkner on Midlands 103.
“Part of my role and part of the IDA’s role is to promote the region to the best we can and to develop the value proposition as best we can and promote that to our teams overseas and to clients that they meet. We do all in our power to do that. We are constantly refining our proposition and all the good things that the region can offer.
However, of over 39,000 jobs created by the IDA in the country in the past two years, just 28 came to Laois.
“There are only two IDA supported clients in Laois. They are both doing very well. Laois has been historically challenged in terms of attracting IDA clients to the county. It is recognised.
“It is not for the want of the IDA and our team promoting the county as part of the midlands region. It’s not for the want of site visits. They aren’t as strong as other counties. But it has to be recognised it is the client companies, or the potential client companies, that ultimately decide where they land.
“We do all we can to promote the midlands region, to promote Laois, to promote Portlaoise etc towards these potential clients, but it is they who decide where they want to land,” he said.
He elaborated on why Laois has struggled in recent decades to attract investment, in comparison to other counties.
“There are a number of factors that these companies look for in terms of boxes that they need to tick before they decide to set up a 50 person or a 200 person manufacturing plant or supporting back office in any location, in any region. Part of that is having a centre of scale – access to a certain size of population.
“This is why most IDA-supported clients will locate close to a large city, because they have access to a deep pool of talent; because that pool is sufficiently qualified in terms of the skill base that they need. It’s not to say that Portlaoise hasn’t got a sizeable population. Especially when you consider that within a 45 to 60 minutes commute the access to talent and the depth of that pool is quite significant,” he said.
The IDA is currently promoting the fact that Portlaoise is the largest town in the midlands, he said, having surpassed Athlone, and are also helping the local enterprise office.
He noted the recent commuter survey, in recognition of the CSO figures, which showed that over 11,000 people commute daily from the county.
“We are trying to get a handle on how qualified those people are. We have a headline number, which is significant. We now need to know what these people are qualified in and what they do, so we can sell that data as far as part of our value proposition,” he said.
Explaining Athlone’s success, Mr Whitelaw said the Westmeath town has done well traditionally in attracting a cluster of foreign direct investment (FDI) and an existing cluster of medtech and pharma.
“When client companies see that it de-risks a move to that space,” he said.
“It’s a proven business model. They have set-up and they have accessed talent and have grown at whatever rate they have grown,” he explained. Another plus for the Westmeath town is Athlone Institute of Technology’s location there and 6,000 plus students.
“I have already met the CEO and the director of services for Laois County Council a couple of times, and I have only been in the job a couple of weeks. I am very anxious to not only meet them, but also get a sense of their value proposition to promote the town and county for direct foreign investment,” Mr Whitelaw said.
“We have recognised how to position their marketing message so their foreign direct investment could be strengthened. I have offered time, expertise and help from the marketing team behind me and have a meeting with the local Enterprise office on April 9.
“We are going to talk through the marketing material etc and how to strengthen that proposition for Portlaoise town for when someone abroad in China googles ‘invest in Portlaoise’ what comes up. It’s all part of that investment journey,” he said.