Resilience is a word we became used to in 2020 and it is an apt term to describe how Irish business responded to the dual challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period.
For thousands of businesses across Ireland, and their staff, it has been a tough, challenging year marked by disruption and uncertainty. But what has been remarkable is how Irish businesses have responded to the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.
At Enterprise Ireland we work closely with the Irish manufacturing, export and internationally traded services sector. We invest in established companies and start-ups, we assist companies to begin exporting or expand into new markets and we back research and development projects creating future jobs.
This week we launched our annual review for 2020. The good news is that the companies we are proud to support employ more than 220,000 in Ireland. Despite the challenges faced in last year, nearly 16,500 new jobs were created, closely mirroring the 2019 outturn.
However, job losses were significantly higher than in previous years, resulting in a net reduction of 872 jobs across the companies we support.
There is no sugar coating the fact that it was a tough year for business. However, behind these statistics are individual stories of companies taking brave decisions to change their business model, reimagine their product offering and find new ways of doing business and connecting with customers to trade through the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.
Enterprise Ireland has worked with these companies throughout the year to ensure viable companies have the liquidity, supports and advice they need to trade, and importantly, to sustain jobs.
Enterprise Ireland supported companies have a key role in the Irish economy. 65% of employment is outside the Dublin region and these indigenous Irish companies, many of which are world leaders in their field, are critical to delivering balanced regional economic development.
Powering the Regions is Enterprise Ireland’s strategy for regional development. It outlines specific plans for each region in the country, drawing on their existing enterprise base, their connections with third level institutions and their unique potential for growth.
The strategy is backed significant funding. This time last year more than €40m was allocated, in a competitive call, to 26 projects fostering regional entrepreneurship and job creation.
These included the Future Mobility Campus Ireland, based in Clare, which explores the potential of autonomous, connected and electric vehicles, UCDNova’s Ag Tech innovation centre in Kildare and the Clermont Hub in Wicklow which focuses on content creation and draws on the region’s established film and audio/visual track record. The 26 projects were supported under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, which has seen €100m invested in similar projects since 2017.
Given the potential impact of Brexit, particularly in the Border region, 11 similar projects designed to cluster expertise and innovation were supported with €17m in support under the Border Enterprise Development Fund in 2020.
These were strategic initiatives, closely linked to government regional policy, with a medium to long-term focus on supporting regional enterprise.
However, due to Covid-19, Enterprise Ireland moved last year to provide more agile interventions to regional businesses assist them to reset and recover.
Ensuring that viable companies had the access to finance was an important necessity. Through the government-backed ‘Sustaining Enterprise Scheme’ Enterprise Ireland allocated €124m last year to support more than 400 companies employing more than 10,000 people. The majority of this funding went to regionally based companies.
Similarly, €8.2m in funding for 95 enterprise centres, which are critical to the start-up ecosystem and future job growth regionally, was made available in September.
Retail business across Ireland also benefitted from the Online Retail Scheme which saw 330 retailers allocated €11.8m in funding to enhance their online offering, reach new customers and increase sales.
Through a mix of strategic funding aimed at long-term enterprise development and more agile funding supports Enterprise Ireland has helped to sustain jobs throughout Ireland in 2020. We’ve also supported those sectors, such as cleantech, construction and life sciences which continued to grow and create jobs last year.
The pandemic will have lasting effects including how we work and where we work. Many of these long-term changes can complement strong local and regional economies. A key element of the Powering The Regions strategy was the potential of remote working and co-working hubs that Enterprise Ireland is committed to developing with our partners. That potential has been accelerated by the changing work patterns evidenced in the past year. Now, more than ever, having a strategic approach to enterprise development is vital, and Enterprise Ireland looks forward to the role it can play as we recover and build for the future.
By Mark Christal, Manager, Regions and Entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland.