Innovative decision on Opera Centre Site to be congratulated

It was with great surprise and delight that I learned on Friday that Limerick City Council and Limerick Regeneration Agencies had been granted central funding by Minster Hogan (although I imagine Minister Michael Noonan played a pivotal role as well as Minister Jan O’Sullivan too) to purchase the current vacant site, and eyesore that is the Opera Centre in the heart of our City Centre.

This new & innovative approach by central government, to fund-aid local government, to purchase opportunities to drive and deliver local economic growth is inspired and to be congratulated. This is an example of how local government, via the vehicle that will be our transformed new Unitary Limerick Authority, can actively participate and lead regeneration within our City’s core and by doing so facilitate enterprise and job growth. Such active participation by both national and local government may be a key model to drive and deliver future viability for towns and cities across the country.

The site presents an opportunity to explore a wide range of uses to enhance the city centre: ideally whatever form the building takes – be it a mixed-use of commercial, retail, residential, cultural, arts… the list is endless – one thing is for sure, the potential is great for the space to become a hub and focal point in the city to compliment the existing offering of cafes, bars, restaurants, museum’s, gallery’s, retail etc that the city currently offers. Yes – it’s an exciting time for Limerick and the Chamber look forward to working with the various bodies in creating an interim use as well as long-term master plan for the site integrated with a master plan for the city.

May the creative juices and minds that came up with this innovative new approach continue to flow and work with the various key stakeholders to deliver and drive transformation in Limerick…

I wish to acknowledge and congratulate all involved – particularly Denis Brosnan, Tom Mackey, Brendan Kenny and Mayor Jim Long as well of course to our national Ministers.

What a night of celebrating all that is good about business in Limerick and the Mid-West!

Family Time: Me with my wife, daughter & son at my President's Dinner last Friday night Our sold out annual President’s Dinner and the inaugural Limerick Region Business Awards took place last Friday night at the Strand Hotel. And oh what a night! A true celebration of all that is good and positive about Limerick!

Our guest speaker Finance Minister Michael Noonan was unable to attend. I read out his letter explaining his disppointment in not being able to join us as he had to be in Brussels.  Everyone applauded him as we all know where Michael’s heart is and we all knew that affairs of state had to come first. However Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Richard Bruton attended in his place and delivered a very positive and uplifting message of the policy measures he and the government are taking to ensure that a pro-business environment is created and that enterprise growth and job creation are at the centre of all decision making.

With over 400 people in attendance this was by far the largest gathering and celebration of business in the Mid-West Region. This year we incorporated the inaugural Limerick Region Business Awards into the President’s Dinner – a decision which under-pinned our celebratory message!! Because the night really showcased the best that business has to offer in Limerick and highlighted to the packed room the fantastic, innovative and successful businesses that are operating in the region. From almost 100 nominee companies, 21 shortlisted companies were profiled on the night and the winners of the seven award categories were announced.

I said it on the night and I’ll probably be saying it for a long time to come, but the standard of applicants for the awards this year was overwhelming. The judging panel were blown away by the vision and leadership of entrepreneurs and managers in the region. The awards are a true testament to the business acumen that exists in Limerick and the Mid-west region and Limerick Chamber were delighted at the opportunity to honour those who have battled against difficult economic times to thrive, grow and succeed!

The winners from the night are listed on the Chamber website as is a link to my speech.

As Pat O’Connor of Cafe Noir, one of our nominee companies said afterwards ““Congratulations on a fantastically well run Presidents Dinner incorporating the Regional Business Awards. It was a thoroughly informative & entertaining evening with superb food and service. It takes a lot to please everyone but I didn’t hear a single negative comment. Well done to all concerned.”

A special thanks to our dinner sponsors, Specsavers & associate sponsors Tadhg Kearney Jewellers & O’Brien’s Wines for their continued support for the Chamber and business community in Limerick. A huge thanks to our main business award sponsors LIT, who the Chamber have partnered with very successfully this year, underpinning their enterprise ladder. Thanks also of course to our individual award sponsors and all who helped to make the night such a success.

And I was particularly delighted that the winner of the inaugural Limerick Chamber President’s award for outstanding service to Limerick and the region went to Denis Brosnan – an extremely popular choice reflected in the standing ovation that greeted Denis.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s!

LIT Mid-West Showcase@DELL – so good, An Taoiseach did not want to leave

What an outstanding event today hosted by DELL in their world-class facility in Raheen where they employ 1,200 highly skilled employees, many of them with global responsibilities within the DELL organisation. DELL hosted the LIT Mid-West showcase – over 150 start-up and emerging enterprises showcasing their products and services in a unique setting within the heart of the DELL organisation. A marriage between the highly successful large multi-national helping to nurture and promote the success of our budding entrepreneurs and the next generation of Irish businesses. And An Taoiseach dropped in with Gay Mitchell extending his planned 30 minute viist to 1.5 hours. This was the biggest enterprise showcase in Ireland outside of Dublin.  Well done DELL, well done LIT. Two forward thinking and progressive organisations leading the way, showing active leadership and delivering so much support and confidence to the entrepreneurial community in Limerick and the Mid-West.

Limerick Region Business Award finalists announced!!!

It’s a very exciting time to be in business in Limerick and the Chamber is thrilled to be showcasing and acknowledging the fantastic work that enterprises in the region are doing! Today we announced the short-list of the best in business for the Limerick Region Business Awards 2011. And wow, what a selection the judges had to choose from!!! The amount of innovative and successful businesses that entered the awards was just overwhelming! We had almost 100 entries which is a phenomenal number given that this is our inaugural year running the awards with our lead sponsor LIT.

I am so thrilled that we decided to run the awards and we will announce the winners at the President’s Dinner. This year the winners will not only be recognised  as the best under the various category headings, but also all short-listed businesses will be showcased in front of the most important man in the Dail at the moment – Minister Michael Noonan! Let’s just say… it’s a rather unique and exciting opportunity!!

The Chamber continuously lobby for a pro-business environment and I think it’s fair to say that we in the Chamber are more aware than most of the problems and challenges facing businesses at the moment… but amidst all of the uncertainty and concerns that are in existence, there are also huge successes. And these awards are designed to celebrate the fantastic businesses that are creating jobs and economic opportunities for the Limerick region. And believe me – there are so many people and businesses out there succeeding despite the economic challenges we as a country and region face.

So put on your dancing shoes & book your place at the awards night/ presidents dinner – it’s on Friday 21st Oct in the Strand Hotel and it promises to be a night to be remembered. It’s the time for us to show that Limerick is not just a great place – but is the place – to do business in Ireland!

The list of finalists is available on the Limerick Chamber website – so are the booking details if you wish to attend the President’s Dinner/ Limerick Region Business Awards night.

Reduction in City commerical rates a necessity for business survival – a 25% reduction is justified now

Probably every business owner in every town and city in Ireland who is paying commercial rates would say they need a reduction in their rates… and let’s face it, in the current economic climate, every business in the country is looking to reduce their expenditure and unfortunately up to now, rates have not up for a meaningful reduction. Pay it or else! One’s trading climate and economic reality is irrelevant!

Perhaps I could be accused of being biased, but I genuinely believe that businesses in Limerick City are in urgent need of an immediate meaningful reduction in rates. Let’s look at the facts. In the last 11 years, rates in Limerick City have increased by 32% (from 57.45 in 2000 to 76.07 in 2011). Ok granted, this is not the steepest of increases, especially when compared to other rating authorities such as Meath, where during the same period rates increased by almost 75%… Although back in 2000 Limerick City happened to have one of the highest rates in the country so we weren’t exactly starting from the same base!

But where the real urgency for Limerick City arises is when the rate is compared to our counter-parts in the County: City is 26% higher – City is currently 76.07, County is 59.92! Let’s face it, the county is merely a few kilometers out the road from the central ‘core’ of the city … if you were a new business looking to establish in the Limerick region this differential would surely influence your decision on where to locate?

Denis Brosnan and the Limerick Local Government Committee in their report recommended the harmonisation of rates in the City to the County. Businesses that are struggling cannot wait until 2014 and the city cannot wait until 2014 to attract as many new businesses as possible into the city centre.

The question which needs to be asked now is – how long can the City afford to wait for this harmonisation? It is my strong belief that this has to be priority number one for the Implementation Committee now. City Rates need to be reduced immediately by 25%. This is the only way that the playing field can be levelled to allow healthy competition between  the City and the County but also to allow Limerick City, as the capital of the region, to help attract in every possible new business oportunity into the city centre as well as helping to protect the exiting businesses operating in the city centre. The region needs the strongest possible city at it’s core. A meaningful reduction in rates will give a very positive signal that “Limerick City Centre is open for business”.

Competition to win Inaugural Limerick Region Business Awards is starting to heat-up!

Competition to win a Limerick Region Business Award has started to heat-up! Entries are pouring in and the judging panel will have a difficult job deciding who to crown… Although we have 7 award categories so there is plenty of love to go around!!

Last week 3 award entrants Clean Ireland (Caroline Walsh), Snap Printing (Ashley Walker) and Action Point (David Jefferys) took the opportunity to showcase their business with one of our media sponsors – on the Limerick Today programme with Joe Nash… ( check out the podcast on http://www.live95fm.ie/music/podcasts-list.aspx?show_guid=dcd1e092-c888-4aa8-849c-9a0abbb5c296). Each company was great sport with an employees from each – Noelle O’Mahony, David Gardiner & Eilis Lacey all winning a free eye examination and designer pair of sunglasses worth €215.00 from Specsavers (a big thank you to Specsavers) and an additional days annual leave for correctly answering 3 questions about their employers! … 3 more companies to feature on Joe’s show this Thursday (15th!)…

Another award entrant got the opportunity to have their business feature with our other media sponsor – the Limerick Leader …  I’ll post the link to John Twomey of Emutex interview as soon as I have it!

If you’d like your  company to be randomly selected for some invaluable and FREE profiling by our media partners Live95FM and Limerick Leader then get your entry to us immediately….

The final closing date for entries is Friday, September 30th & the awards will be announced at the Limerick Chamber Presidents Dinner on Friday 21st October in the Limerick Strand Hotel. With guest speaker Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance, this is an ideal opportunity to showcase your business!

To download an application form click here and e-mail it to Katie @ the Chamber ASAP!!  (info@limerickchamber.ie )

AND BEST OF LUCK TO THE BEST IN THE REGION!!!

Parkway Valley development – at what cost to the City Centre?…

Afer several months of speculation this Wednesday (7/9/11) it was confirmed that Belfast developer Suneil Sharma has purchased the currently abandoned, half-built development that is Parkway Valley on the suburb of the City. Although nobody can deny that the development, in its current state is nothing short of a complete eyesore and blight on the landscape, the completion of this development will have serious negative consequences for Limerick City and ultimately the greater Limerick Region.

As a regional Chamber we welcome any announcement that will bring investment and jobs for Limerick and the region. The development, which will be the largest of its kind in Ireland in the foreseeable future, is recognition of the potential Limerick has a real counter-pole to Dublin. As the capital of the Mid-West region, our improved road infrastructure has put us at the heart of the Atlantic Corridor, opening us up to other Gateway cities such as Cork and Galway giving us a critical mass population of 1.2 million! No wonder Mr. Sharma see’s the commercial potential of Limerick sand specifically this development!!!

But we cannot but worry about the impact that this development will have on a city centre that is already under retail pressure suffering from years of over-development on the suburbs, creating what must be the largest donought effect in the country! The saturation of retail developments and shopping centres on the periphery of the city is a damnation on years of poor local governance – years of competition between neighbouring authorities – years of poor planning. A legacy which goes against all healthy city-region balances: strong regions have strong cities at their core. And this is what we need to not just acknowledge, but actively pursue!

And yes, now we have the template for a new governance model, but is it too late? By all accounts the permission for the development in Parkway Valley is a done deal.

I personally don’t want to give-in.  This announcement I believe creates the first real challenge for the new Limerick Local Governance Implementation Committee as chaired by Denis Brosnan. We have been told that the the new unified local authority will give us united joined-up thinking. I call on the Implementation  team to now demonstrate that joined-up thinking, to address this situation in the context of what is best for the City and the region, to re-affirm the position of the city centre as the centre for growth and development for the region. I shudder to think what will happen to our historic and great city if they don’t actively generate this agenda with immediate effect.

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