Road upgrades vital for industry
The Life Sciences sector — which incorporates companies in the areas of medical devices, pharma and biotech — employs more than 50,000 people in Ireland and is worth an eye-watering annual €45 billion in exports.
So when the Government is warned that a crucial element of the further expansion of this thriving, productive and lucrative sector is state investment in improved infrastructure, it’s to be expected that our politicians will sit up and listen.
The Cork region is very well positioned in the sector, and has capacity for further significant growth, says Conor Healy, chief executive of the Cork Chamber of Commerce.
This growth must be strategically enabled, he says, by government investment in key infrastructure throughout the region.
“From a starting point of view, we have the Dunkettle interchange — we expect that this project would be completed by 2021,” he says.
Next, he points to the N28 route to Ringaskiddy, describing it as “an absolutely essential piece of infrastructure, particularly in terms of enabling the growth of the Life Sciences sector.”
The N28 as a route is of importance to all business in Cork.
He says: “For many years many people have been working to get it upgraded. It is now prioritised in the government capital plan, a corridor has been selected and there is a call for submissions.”
Once this phase is completed, it’s expected that the project will move steadily forward with the necessary government funding committed to the construction of the route.
“This route is really important in terms of future investment in the Life Sciences sector,” says Mr Healy, who warns that the upgrading of the road is “essential” for the future expansion and development of Port of Cork.
“It is very important in terms of accessibility from the major surrounding commuter belts,” he said.
Key improvements scheduled to be made to the various interchanges will also benefi t the broader population spread through the hinterland of Douglas, Rochestown, Carrigaline and Ringaskiddy.
However, unless these crucial road-works are carried out, he says, over the next few years, the N28 will only continue to become busier and increasingly congested.
“For the benefit of industry, the broader population and the economy, it is imperative that the upgrading work goes ahead,” Mr Healy explains.
The Little Island area — another significant hub for Life Sciences industries — is also experiencing challenges in terms of access and traffic movement, he warns:
“Over the next period of time we need to see investment in the road infrastructure surrounding Little Island in terms of its position as a key industrial hub.”
In this scenario, the appointment of a panel of experts by Cork County Council to carry out a traffic management study was to be welcomed, Mr Healy observed.
The study will identify and make recommendations about necessary improvements to infrastructure which will require funding from both national and local government, he said.
He identified another area of concern as the M20 Cork- Limerick route which, he says, is central in terms of the broader enhancement of economic activity across Munster: “There is a sizeable employment population moving between Cork and Limerick and living in both locations. “One of the issues that is really important in terms of the Life Science sector is the availability of a very large and broadbased employment population.
“Improvements in the road infrastructure automatically widen the available catchment area, he points out, thus benefiting the economies of both Cork and Limerick.
In recent months, he explains, the Chambers of Commerce of both cities jointly commissioned a socioeconomic report on the merits of government investment in the upgrading of the M20.
The report’s findings highlight the economic value of this route and the importance that it plays in terms of facilitating economic activity and the current situation of over-capacity on the route.
The job creation potential in the case of necessary investment in that infrastructure is expected to be considerable.
After all, the record of the Life Science sector is virtually unparalleled when it comes to investment in the Cork region.
It’s been a fact of life here for decades — since 1969, in fact, when Pfizer made its first investment in Ringaskiddy.
This initial project paved the way for significant investment by a wide range of global pharma leaders in subsequent years:
“Over the last 15 years or so, we have seen the development of the biotech sector which is making a very significant contribution.
“This is a major growth sector globally, and, considering our track record, our skill availability and the business environment here in the region, it is a sector that has capacity for significant further growth.”
In the medical devices area too, the south-west region has benefited from long-standing investment by global companies. The same is true of the national picture, Mr Healy emphasises, noting that this is a key sector in attracting a lot of interest from global investors.
“In terms of the contribution, all of these companies in the Life Sciences area are excellent employers, providing high quality well paid employment across a whole range of disciplines,” he explains.
On top of that, he points out, the value of the investment by these companies year-on-year in the local economy in terms of maintenance and upgrading of plant facilities as well as internal investments, is extremely high.
“It results in significant spend in the local economy, working with sub- contractors who meet the requirements of these companies,” he says.
However, he warns, sometimes the value of those ongoing investments by existing business in the region i s not recognised and acknowledged to the extent that it should be.
“This is real, year- on- year, ongoing investment at a very significant level,” he says, warning that i t can be wrongly overshadowed by exciting new investment announcements.
“The tech sector has been to the forefront in recent years, but the existing life sciences sector continues to invest in the local economy and create additional employment.
This should not be forgotten,” he says.
Conor Healy, CEO of Cork Chamber, and Dr James Ring, CEO of Limerick Chamber pictured in Charleville at the start of the study into plans to upgrade the M20 Cork-Limerick motorway.
Traffic at the Dunkettle Roundabout leaving the Jack Lynch tunnel.
CORK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE chief executive