With busy offices in both Dublin and Cork I am in the privileged position of witnessing both cities up close and personal and with the nature of our work we get close to many of the key issues and challenges.
In Dublin I am a Council member of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and in Cork I have been working on various marketing initiatives for the region so I guess I have a unique perspective. The recent Connecting Cork initiative by Cork Chamber has the city proactively connecting with our business diaspora around the globe.
Undoubtedly, there are terrific opportunities but there are also big challenges that must be addressed if we wish to seize them and Cork can play a pivotal role in ensuring that these opportunities stay in Ireland.
We hear the fantastic headlines on the news everyday about the many companies announcing new jobs but we also hear about how much demand there is for housing and the limited supply of high quality office space in the locations that contemporary businesses and their talented employees want to be in – high quality, accessible urban destinations with an attractive lifestyle mix.
While unemployment levels are half what they were at the peak of the recession the headlines are dominated with news of sky rocketing rents and the resulting social issues due to the huge imbalance of supply and demand for housing. The brave ‘Home Sweet Home’ campaign with the occupation of Apollo House has just put a huge spotlight on the issue of homelessness, which is in part a consequence of an improving economy.
So, it doesn’t always quite feel that we are succeeding.
While I am hugely proud of Cork, my hometown it is vital that Ireland has a strong, effective capital city to rival any in Europe. As part of my role in Dublin Chamber of Commerce we regularly feed into briefing documents and housing has been clearly identified as the number one issue for Dublin followed by infrastructure.
At the moment, it feels to me that Dublin is “broken” and it needs radical fixing so that the opportunities that present themselves can be seized without causing further problems for those living and working in the city.
The government for obvious reasons were unable to prime the development context to support the housing, office and hotel development that urban Ireland really needed. It also failed to really get to grips with the major infrastructure deficit in Dublin and we are now in major catch up mode.
To complicate matters further the management of the city of Dublin is totally fragmented, which makes cohesive planning and effective action extremely difficult.
The private land and property sector can shoulder some of the blame but there are huge tracts of brownfield land and property owned by State Agencies in Dublin, which should have been primed for development in 2012,13 and 14 for delivery now.
We talk about the genuine opportunities for Ireland as a result of Brexit but you must question if we could honestly cope with them if they came to fruition. If we are struggling with major issues for those living here now, are we crazy to be still talking about attracting even more businesses and talent?
Getting the companies here and then trying to sort out homes, schools and transport for the people afterwards will not be that easy.
While we proudly proclaim that “Ireland is the best small country in which to do business” we are in real danger of this message changing to “Ireland is the worst small country in which to find a suitable home“.
We need to be really careful because this message will catch on and once it does it will be very difficult for us to change the it.
This is where I believe Cork can step up to the mark.
In my hometown, something exciting is happening. Cork, has been progressing well with office, hotel, retail, leisure and community projects completed or under construction and at the same time public realm improvements are helping to present Cork in a better light.
However, Cork is also facing housing and infrastructure challenges but like any smaller ‘entity’ we should be more agile and flexible with the capability of reacting quickly as long as we have the genuine will to do so.
If Cork is positive and works diligently, cleverly and cohesively we can position the Cork ‘Metro’ area of some 500,000 people as Ireland’s only genuine second tier European city region full of innovative and creative people who are hungry to succeed.
Cork would then be in an ideal position to provide solutions for Ireland that Dublin will be unable to provide.
Cork can and should complement Dublin, adding more depth to Ireland’s global offer, helping IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the private sector to attract and retain businesses and people in Ireland and helping all to grow and succeed.
We now have real critical mass in global growth business sectors including technology, agribusiness, bio-pharma, tourism plus business services so a person can enjoy a great career along with other benefits.
Living in Cork is unquestionably a fantastic alternative with cheaper housing, cheaper office space, superb education, little congestion, the amazing countryside and coastline plus you can access Dublin, the rest of the island plus the global hubs of London, Paris and Amsterdam along with 50 other European cities easily. Into the bargain, we will soon be able to fly direct to the US.
Our most precious asset is the very special quality of life that is second to none in Cork, which many clever people, domestic and foreign, have already figured out. So many people who locate to Cork just don’t leave!
We have this superb opportunity and it is within our grasp once we are proactive and accelerate the development, infrastructure and marketing of the Cork region. House building must be front of centre with this agenda to ensure that we can provide all of our current and new citizens with suitable homes.
While Cork is “Big on Life” it needs to be just as Big on Action if we are to seize the opportunities that are there, right now.