Mountmellick Development Association opened its Webmill business centre on Tuesday July 31, with Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan cutting the ribbon.
Webmill has space for 45 workers and is aimed at filling a growing need for an alternative to the long daily commute to Dublin, in the form of shared offices with reliable fast internet.
Desks can be rented for one or more days at a time, so workers can take a break from commuting.
The centre has three stylish glass walled offices of varying sizes which can be cordoned off to make smaller spaces.
There are also open and private meeting spaces, a big kitchen, comfy armchairs and funky phonebox private booths.
In a way the 5,500 sq foot facility was built out of thin air in the MDA building, a restored mill.
Webmill is on a first floor which literally did not exist until the MDA's commercial kitchens were built in recent years, which required a fireproof ceiling.
Spotting the new space's potential, MDA manager Paddy Buggy got approval from the board to begin work on creating Webmill.
The project got the backing of a Town & Village Renewal grant of €100,000 via Laois County Council.
The MDA also borrowed from the local bank and engaged local contractors Garoon Construction to do the job, with board member and retired council engineer Pat Fitzpatrick volunteering his design skills to save money.
Minister Flanagan grew up across the road from the Irishtown mill and recalled cycling to it on his tricycle.
“It's moving now from job creation to quality of life. I welcome the representatives of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland here, we hope to see more of you. This expansion will ensure a better quality of life for Laois commuters and I assure you of support from the state for projects such as this,” he said.
Paul Dempsey is the chairman of the MDA board.
“The Webmill has space for 45 staff which will bring direct employment on the campus to 160. We had those numbers in the 1990s and we hope to bring them back up, providing a better work life balance,” Mr Dempsey said.
CEO of Laois County Council John Mulholland praised the unit at the launch.
“I visited this two years ago and it was covered in dust. Mountmellick was the Manchester of its time, and now we see a renaissance,” he said.
He noted that there are now co-working centres in Portlaoise, Portarlington and Mountrath.
“We have a network in Laois that compares equally if not better to other counties. Up to 130 individual spaces in communities like this. All are really required by commuters, and all are retrofitted into existing buildings. You have delivered this in a value for money way.
“I hope that quality will make it an easy selling point,” Mr Mulholland said.
The launch was also attended by Laois Enterprise Office and Laois Chamber of Commerce. Webmill was blessed by Reverend Tim Irvine and Fr Micheál Murphy PP.
Husband and wife business team Alan and Christine Kenna from Mountmellick are one of the first tenants at the co-working hub Webmill in the MDA offices.
They are self employed owners of BizEquip, selling and servicing office equipment like copiers and printers.
“We are here three days a week, for the past three months,” said Christine, who was busy working at her desk on the day of the official launch of Webmill on July 30.
Before the move, business was based around the kitchen table she said.
“For us it has meant more productivity for our business. There was too much distraction at home, the kids, the dogs, everything,” she said.
She is hoping that when more people come to work at Webmill it will in turn boost their business.
“It is just a fabulous space. The more people who come in, the better it's going to be for the business,” Christine said.
She thanked MDA manager Paddy Buggy.
“I comment Paddy on all his hard work, and getting it open. It is a great addition to the town.
We had been looking for space, but here it is great value, it's €250 a month plus VAT, and it's worth every penny,” she said.
The other tenant sharing their 10 desk office is engineer Derek Reddin.
The man with a big role to play in making Webmill a reality in Mountmellick Development Association's campus is MDA manager Paddy Buggy.
Speaking at the opening, he explained that he knows well the pain of commuting to Dublin every day.
"As someone who once spent four hours a day commuting, I know how much it means to have more me time, and a work life balance,” he said.
He explained why there is a need for the centre in the town.
“Mountmellick has a high number of commuters. We have a proximity to Dublin, but it is too expensive to work in,” he said.
Mr Buggy hopes that Webmill can grow new business for the town.
“Webmill brings tomorrow's world to Mountmellick. We hope that the cross pollination will in turn bring new business to the town," he said.
He was praised as “a trendsetter” at the launch by Cathaoirleach Cllr Willie Aird, who said that his father had given Paddy Buggy that name many years ago.
“We're there with you every step of the way with help and support,” Cllr Aird said.
MDA board chairman Paul Dempsey also credited Paddy Buggy for driving the project.
“Paddy pushed us all to complete this project,” he said.
The MDA building is an old mill that was bought by the community run organisation in the 1980’s, using local fundraised money.
It now has a childcare centre, a family run restaurant, museum, meeting rooms used by local clubs, conference rooms and parking, now complimented by Webmill.
The site also has purpose built units occupied by the HSE and the Standex company.
Paddy Buggy has forged contacts with local landlords to ensure that overnight accommodation in Mountmellick can be arranged if needed by Webmill workers.
“We have collaborated with property owners for accommodation,” he said.
He is ready to get the word out to potential tenants.
“We are getting good feedback. The builders literally were working until the morning of the launch so we are ready to roll, the work really starts now,” he said.
Next up for the MDA is to launch its Beale Centre for Business Excellence, to be the focal point in Laois for stage agencies, businesses and third level instutions to work together to createLaois jobs.