Dr Pat Daly, Economic Development Director at Limerick City and County Council, talks to Julia Lemagnen about the secrets of this lesser known location’s recent success and their ambitious and driving plans for future growth.  

When Dell announced the closure of its factory in Limerick back in 2009, something had to be done. Limerick has responded to the challenges through positive disruption, spurring ambitious growth plans which are revitalizing this charming Irish city.

Limerick lies in the mid-west of Ireland on the River Shannon, at the head of a picturesque estuary which links the city to the Atlantic Ocean. All the stereotypes of a green and beautiful Irish landscape are true…but don’t be fooled by this seemingly unassuming rural idyll. Limerick also has a vibrant and historic cityscape with new jobs being created in the technology, creative and hospitality industries.

Limerick City & County Council has big plans for growth which are already starting to come to fruition. The aim is to offer residents a long-term career in the region and develop a future-focused attitude of mind to attract business to Limerick. Half a million people in the Greater Limerick region enjoy the benefits of a good road and rail network, proximity (20 minutes) to Shannon Airport with direct access to the US, UK and Europe, access to great golf courses and a burgeoning nightlife. 

In 2014, the city and county councils took the bold step of merging into a single organisation with a common vision: to regenerate the region with a raft of development goals to be achieved by 2030.  The regeneration plan was to create jobs and attract investment to the city of Limerick and the surrounding county. The Limerick 2030 plan set out to create 12,000 jobs by 2030, of which 5,000 would be in the city centre. To date, 11,000 jobs have already been created in Limerick City in under five years, there are three new investments per month currently, and, bolstered by this early success, the City & County Council continues to single-mindedly pursue its vision. So how did Limerick achieve such impressive numbers?  

“Having an agreed plan with our partners was key,” Pat Daly explains. “We agreed our 2030 vision and went about it quickly and effectively. When it was originally discussed in 2013, it was the first city region strategy in Ireland. We had the leadership of the City and County Council and the budgets and programmes behind it. Putting the key support and infrastructure in first was vital to making it happen.”

Limerick City & County Council undertook many activities which were – or still are – firsts for Ireland. They were the first local authority to have a digital strategy and a major marketing and communications team outside of Dublin. They were also the first authority to co-locate FDI investors, first in the automotive industry and later in sports analytics. The three companies involved in these projects alone have brought 450 jobs to the city.  

A major move by Limerick City and County Council was the decision to establish in 2016 the first local authority development company of its kind in the country, aptly named Limerick Twenty Thirty. Its remit is to develop disused but strategic sites in the city acquired by the local authority in the downturn, transforming them into anchors for enterprise and investment development. A target has been set for the company of developing high-end office and commercial space that would house 5,000 jobs within five years. The company, which will also be incorporating residential projects into its mix, is already making significant inroads and set to finalise its first facility, Gardens International http://gardenslimerick.com/ in Q4 this year. Already, a significant portion of the 100,000 sq ft facility has been taken, no surprise given the LEED Gold standards being delivered in this stunning architectural mix of historic and new Limerick. 

“This programme demonstrates that Limerick is serious about matching space with the market requirement”, Pat says. “Limerick Twenty Thirty Strategic Development DAC is a key piece in the emerging Limerick jigsaw. It will deliver over €500 million of infrastructure investment, bringing thousands of additional jobs into the heart of the city. The knock-on will be transformational.  We also have the largest team in Ireland dedicated to inward and indigenous investment and they work really well together.”

Pat also feels that speed has been an important ingredient in Limerick’s success. The council has committed itself to working at the pace of the investing companies, rather than the other way around. Limerick aims to get the companies into the business in the city and scaling up as quickly as possible, and this is proving a strong selling point to investors. The local authority is prepared to act in partnership with co-locating companies, sharing car parks and canteen facilities with their own staff.

Limerick has a strong knowledge economy, so it attracts information technology and Internet of Things (IoT) projects. It is also strong in fintech and financial services, creative industries, pharma and the newly emerging sports technology and analytics sector. Pat would like to develop the region’s sports analytics business further:

“The higher educational institutions in the area are very strong in sports technology.  Limerick has a very sporty ethos, we are near the ocean and on the Wild Atlantic Way coastal path, so outdoor activity is a big part of life here. Chicago-based sports data company Stats (https://www.stats.com/) announced its investment in Limerick in Autumn last year and will grow to 100 people quite quickly. We also like to be involved with new technology and innovation. We are making a name as an innovator, so this attracts like-minded businesses.”

A great example of Limerick’s commitment to using existing space within the city is Troy Studios (http://troystudios.ie/) , who lease the 340,000 sq.ft. former Dell factory site from the Limerick Twenty Thirty company as a film studio with 70,000 sq.ft. of sound stages. US companies such as big pharma Johnson & Johnson (https://www.jnj.com/) and wealth management corporation Northern Trust (https://www.northerntrust.com/) are also growing rapidly in Limerick. And more.

“Limerick is a great location for access to both Europe and the USA,” Pat continues. “The States has always been a very strong market for us, both the east and west coast but particularly Austin Texas, a city which has similarities with Limerick. We are also looking towards the UK and co-operation after Brexit. Our track record in the last five years shows we will do what we say, and we will help companies.  It’s been well tested for companies of different sizes. We have built an organisation to support companies that want to innovate and do things differently in a disruptive sense.” 

Prospective investors can be very clear about what they are getting when they invest in Limerick. Pat makes the point that they have very transparent plans and data available on the city.  No other city in Ireland has planned its economic and spatial development in this way, and investors can be confident that, in the stable political environment of Ireland, these plans will be delivered.  Furthermore, the development of Limerick is "plan-led", ensuring it is entirely sustainable and that the same mistakes across Ireland of the boom of the last decade aren’t replicated here. 

The four economic campuses across the city as part of the Limerick 2030 vision have been mapped out for the next 15-20 years, so Pat and his team can show what buildings will be coming on-stream and where the clusters will develop. This strong vision is winning them investment projects, Pat believes.

Amongst the most dynamic projects the city is undertaking is the Limerick Twenty Thirty redevelopment of the 1.62 hectare Opera Site in the historic city centre http://www.limerick2030.ie/ope... , and the ongoing improvement of the waterfront. Like other Tier 2 cities such as Dundee (Scotland, https://www.dundeewaterfront.c... ) and Norwich (England), Limerick wants to attract a combination of business, residential and leisure/tourism activities to its riverside. The investment is forthcoming, too, with a loan of €170 million on its way for the Opera site development from the European Investment Bank and Council of Europe Development Bank.  Confidence in the project – and Limerick generally – was reflected in the declaration by EIB Vice President Andrew McDowell that the bank has not seen any projects like this before and what’s being achieved in Limerick is a model for other cities around Europe. 

The Limerick 2030 plan has already been two-thirds achieved in under one third of the expected timescale, so Pat and his team won’t be taking their foot off the accelerator pedal any time soon.  They are energised by the winning feeling and have plenty more gas in the tank!