There are positive signs that Laois can attract foreign investment that can create jobs in Laois according to the woman tasked with getting overseas companies to set up in the Midlands.
Ms Breda O’Toole, IDA Regional Midlands was one of four speakers to join Minister Richard Bruton at the forum for jobs at the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel last week.
She said a lot of IDA clients chose Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway because of their size, having universities but also because they are “trendy and sexy”.
She said it “does not make sense” for the IDA to “sell counties” when attracting foreign investment that could create jobs
“What we can get in Laois and what is in the pipeline strongly is some services. There is a big cluster of services here already in terms of all the public services,” she said.
Ms O’Toole said this “huge abundance” of service provision is repackaged and promoted to overseas investors who need people with such skills.
An example of such a service is Teliflex is a medical technology company which has a services base in Athlone. She said the Athlone centre delivers IT, personnel, accountancy to its European team. She said AXA Insurance also has a similar base in the midlands.
However, she said there was also scope to build a cluster of specialist manufacturing companies that in turn would attract bigger companies. She also pointed to wind energy as having scope.
One of the added benefits to targeting service jobs is says that IDA that it takes relatively. She said it can take years to confirm bigger investments while it can take 15 months to confirm service jobs.
“We had 17 site visits to the midlands last year we had nothing like that the year before. So there is traction. We had three site visits to Laois last year and we had none for the previous two years. I see a lift and we are marketing the midlands differently now,” she said.
Dr Micahel Brougham of Enterprise Ireland also spoke at the event. He told the Leinster Express afterwards that his agency was targeting growth in Laois companies.
Speaking in response to the loss of IDA and Enterprise jobs to Laois the Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation said his Government had inherited problems but had “arrested” unemployment in the midlands the last two years.
“My department supports over 300 companies here in Laois that employ around 1,600 and our challenge is to build on that base,” he said.
Saying that there have been problems he said he visited Portlaoise last week to listen to business find out what can be done to promotes busness growth in Laois.
As to when this would happen Mr Bruton said job creation is happening but there are challenges.
“In this county there is growth in employment as part of the Midlands. A lot is coming from agriculture and tourism is strong. Clearly there are problems in winning overseas projects and that is one of the issues we will be discussing.
“Minsters don’t determine the choice of companies. Companies come with well considered needs when they are looking at investment. It is not Laois competing with other parts of Ireland it is Ireland competing with countries,” he said.
Minister Bruton said it is not all about overseas companies.
“A lot of what we are trying to do is help small businesses to get a better flow of startups,” said Minister Bruton.
The forum which attracted some 150 local business was co-organised and chaired by Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan. He said the event had been constructive and he hoped there would be results. He said a report of the meeting would be prepared.