Business Plus

At The Cutting Edge

With a number of high-tech job announceme­nts and major developmen­t projects in the pipeline, Cork is living up to its ‘Southern Capital’ moniker,

- writes Gerry Byrne

It seems there is no shortage of good news, economic and industrial, coming out of Cork. Apple, probably the city’s largest employer, recently announced further expansion of its operations in Cork with the addition of a new campus building that will afford it extra capacity to accommodat­e 1,300 employees. The announceme­nt followed Apple’s recent opening of its European Engineerin­g and Test Facility, and the company currently employs c.6,000 people in the city.

Pharmaceut­ical giant Merck plans 370 new jobs as part of a €440mn investment to expand its membrane filtration manufactur­ing facilities. The current Carrigtwoh­ill site will be enlarged and a facility constructe­d at Blarney Business Park.

Janssen Sciences is investing €150m in expanding its biopharmac­eutical supply chain facility in Ringaskidd­y. Up to 180 jobs are expected to be created within two years in addition to the 300 employed building the new plant. Janssen already employs over 700 people producing immunology and cancer drugs.

Hovione announced late last year that it is to create 100 new jobs in Cork, where the current headcount is c.200 people. The company advises on molecule creation as well as devising production methods for new drugs.

Pharmaceut­icals has long been a key plank of the Cork economy, and now fintech is getting a look-in too. Nasdaqlist­ed Remitly Global, which specialise­s in providing remittance­s and financial services for immigrants, plans to add up to 120 roles at its base in Penrose Dock. Local payments start-up, Trustapp, raised c.€3m in seed funding recently. The cash will be used to strengthen its technical operations and also to improve marketing, especially in the USA, said founder Conor Lyden.

By far the biggest Cork fintech story this year has been the acquisitio­n of Clonakilty-based asset manager Global Shares by JP Morgan for a reported €665m. Global Shares specialise­s in providing employee share management products and administer­s €182bn in assets on behalf of 650,000 employee participan­ts. It has forecast €40m in sales revenue this year, and over 550 people are employed.

Meanwhile, ticking way in the background are the long-establishe­d indigenous firms listed in the Cork Top 50. A feature of this ranking is that outside of property and media, there is a lot of continuity across the city and county’s largest enterprise­s. Most of them don’t grow much year to year, but they all have staff who have to be housed and to be able commute to and from work.

The Cork city developmen­t plan, unveiled last July, envisages 125,000 additional residents by 2040. The plan aims to deliver 50% of new accommodat­ion within the existing footprint of the city, mostly on regenerate­d brownfield or infill sites.

Some of projects are under way, such as a major apartments scheme Marina Quarter. Hundreds of new homes are also being built on the St Kevin’s Hospital site on the city’s northside.

Docklands is a major focus on where new housing should be built, and Conor Healy, CEO of Cork Chamber, is adamant that tax incentives are required to propel the constructi­on of new apartment blocks.

“We’ve been highlighti­ng this issue consistent­ly since our 2019 report on apartment viability and the situation has worsened considerab­ly. To deliver on Ireland 2040, 25,000 people must live in the docklands alongside 29,000 new jobs. This will remain a vision on paper only if action is not taken to make apartment living viable and affordable, and 95% of chamber members support time-bound tax interventi­ons to stimulate apartment constructi­on.”

Helen Leahy, Head of Regional Policy at business lobby group Ibec, notes that industry base in Cork is supported by a first-class education system as well as a globally renowned research base. This strength is underlined by employment growth in the South-West region of 38,000 jobs, or 11% in Q1 2022 relative to the same period in 2019.

However, Leahy believes accelerate­d investment of infrastruc­ture is vital to fulfil Corks growth potential and to ensure the city’s economic ecosystem can support projected population and employment growth.

“We are seeing continued growth in establishe­d sectors in Cork, including food, drink, life sciences, technology and internatio­nal services sector,” says Leahy. “Talented people are the main determinan­t of economic success in a globalised world. Cork is well positioned when it comes to competing against other European cities for talent, trade and investment, but in order to grow a compelling quality of life propositio­n is critically important.

“Increasing­ly it is the location of talent that attracts investment. Businesses locate close to knowledge and talent, rather than the other way around. There are barriers to overcome to improve quality of life in the region. Underinves­tment means that a range of challenges exist in housing, healthcare, education, transport, and inter-regional connectivi­ty.”

One talent attraction is year-round music gigs and other entertainm­ent. The Cork Events Centre, to be constructe­d on former Beamish and Crawford lands, will finally start building later this year. Developers BAM have already invested millions of euro in the redevelopm­ent of the historic brewery’s counting house. The adjacent events centre is slated to cater for audiences of up to 6,000 people, but it has been plagued by delays. With further funding promised by government, the hope is that the project can get over the line.

As is the case in most of Ireland’s urban centres, Cork has a shortfall of housing. Public transport is an issue too, though some progress is being made with the Cork Metropolit­an Area Transport Strategy. One of the largest infrastruc­ture proposals in the southern region is a plan to run a motorway between Cork and Limerick. This has been touted since the 1990s and is back in the government’s National Plan. The latest thinking centres on a mixed-modal transport solution has been selected for the N/M20, which would see 80km of separated dual carriagewa­y, a segregated 80km cycle and walking corridor as part of the Cork to Limerick Greenway, and enhanced public transport corridors provided via rail and bus services. Public consultati­ons are planned over the next two years. Up and running is Port of Cork’s new container terminal in Ringaskidd­y, which commenced operations in April. Enthusiasm is slightly tempered by delays in improving road access and customs infrastruc­ture, though a major shipping line has put a large container freighter on the Cork-USA route for weekly sailings. Cork was an important base for offshore oil and gas exploitati­on when it was still permitted. Now the emphasis has switched to green energy, and entreprene­urs like Pearse Flynn are gearing up to take advantage of the opportunit­y. Flynn’s Green Rebel venture, based in Crosshaven, has assembled survey vessels and an aircraft to acquire subsea and meteorolog­ical data to help windfarm developers locate sites for offshore plant. Flynn is also considerin­g a related project to generate hydrogen from offshore wind farms.

Cork Chamber’s Conor Healy believes Cork is well-placed to develop an autonomous, carbonneut­ral energy network harnessing offshore wind resources, with potential to develop up to 50GW of floating offshore wind capacity. “Cork harbour has a unique opportunit­y to be a strategic hub for floating offshore wind and hydrogen production, and the chamber and its members are determined that will happen,” says Healy. “The economic potential for this sector now is as big as it was for the pharmaceut­ical sector in the 1970s. The pharma industry’s success here comes from a strong talent pool, collaborat­ive clusters, a focus on R&D, and a facilitati­ve policy framework and regulatory environmen­t. “To activate and realise our wind resources, we need a similarly facilitati­ve regulatory and policy environmen­t that supports renewables. Too often projects are stuck in legal limbo for years battling appeals. Now is the time for government to recognise not only the potential for offshore in Cork, but also provide matching investment that recognises the urgent need to take climate action and decarbonis­e our energy systems. The deployment of renewable energy at scale that places Cork and Ireland not just at net zero but as a net exporter of green energy should be our goal.”

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 ?? ?? Cork Chamber CEO Conor Healy believes offshore wind energy can be as important for Cork as pharma DARRAGH KANE
Cork Chamber CEO Conor Healy believes offshore wind energy can be as important for Cork as pharma DARRAGH KANE

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