At the heart of Ireland, Laois is the ideal strategic business hub

Laois has great transport, tourism and arts attractions, a Remote Working Collective, a collaborative focus on low-carbon energy in The Cube and an 80-acre enterprise centre that will be home to a major Glanbia facility

29th November, 2020
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The Webmill remote working hub in Mountmellick

With an unrivalled location at the heart of Ireland, an educated workforce, robust infrastructure and strong transport links, Laois is a well-resourced and strategic hub for business, both indigenous and international.

The county has a population of close to 85,000 people and 39 towns and villages. It is already home to significant employers, including Dawn Meats in Rathdowney, CJ Sheeran’s in Mountrath, and Laois Sawmills and Glanbia Oats Mill in Portlaoise.

Portlaoise is also home to emerging tech companies such as Enva Ireland, LSM Engineering and Skout.

“Laois is, strategically speaking, the best-placed county in Ireland for doing business outside Dublin,” John Mulholland, chief executive at Laois County Council, said.

“At the heart of the national transport network and within an hour of Dublin, we have excellent connectivity to the rest of the country, with motorways links to the leading cities.

“Three strategic rail corridors pass through the county and a nationwide bus service operates regularly to and from Laois.

“There are seven hotels with state-of-the-art conference facilities and six state-of-the-art remote working centres spread throughout the county.”

Remote working collective

The Laois Hub Collective is made up of Portlaoise Enterprise Centre, Portarlington Enterprise Centre, BloomHQ in Mountrath, The Webmill in Mountmellick, Vision85 in Portlaoise and Erkina Digital Hub based in Rathdowney.

“As the traditional workplace dynamics has been overturned by Covid 19, these hubs are ideal for providing a new work model,” Mulholland said.

“They are spacious and modern and all have the necessary social distancing requirements for a safe working environment. They are also incredibly cost-effective and offer a huge choice for workers.

Three of these hubs - Portlaoise Enterprise Centre, Portarlington Enterprise Centre and Vision 85 - recently secured more than €200,000 in funding the Enterprise Centre Fund run by Enterprise Ireland.

“What we have learned over the past nine months, if we hadn’t already realised it, is that people throughout Ireland really appreciate nature, the environment and that we seek a better quality of life,” Mulholland said.

“We instinctively know that time with family is more important than the long daily commute to work.

“In Laois, we believe we have a formula to suit employers and their staff, so that remote working and working in hubs can provide a more cost-effective and productive workplace environment.”

Tourism, culture and the arts

The county also benefits from a rich cultural heritage that continues to go from strength to strength.

“Situated on Ireland’s Ancient East, Laois has a wealth of historical treasures to explore. There is the Rock of Dunamase, the remnants of Dunamase Castle and the nearby Emo Court House and Gardens, which attract 300,000 visitors every year,” Mulholland said.

“Electric Picnic, meanwhile, has become Ireland’s premier culture, arts and music festival. Held in Stradbally, it attracted 60,000 people last year and is helping a burgeoning local arts scene to thrive.

Dunamaise Arts Centre houses local and international exhibitions, while some of Ireland’s most influential contemporary artists have located here.

Then, there is Ballyfin House, one of Ireland’s most prestigious hotels. Situated 10km outside Portlaoise, it was included in the Condé Nast Travellers Gold List of best hotels and restaurants in the world last year.

The Slieve Bloom Mountains, already a popular outdoor attraction for visitors, is set to benefit further from the development of the new Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trails.

A joint initiative between Laois County Council and Offaly County Council, the project will extend to 100km of trails when completed along with full trailhead facilities at Baunreagh in Co. Laois and visitor services at Kinnitty in Co. Offaly.

The Cube

Government funding of more than €2 million, secured at the start of the year, will be used to develop a low-carbon centre of excellence in Portlaoise.

Situated on Church Street in the town’s cultural quarter, the ambition is that The Cube will be the first dedicated low-carbon facility in the midlands region.

Funding for the development has been provided by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment through the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) administered by Enterprise Ireland.

The REDF is an open national competitive call aimed at supporting regional projects that can drive sustainable job creation in the regions. A Project Ireland 2040 project, it is aligned with the government’s Future Jobs Ireland framework.

The Cube was one of 26 successful projects from around the country approved for funding of more than €40 million under Call Three of the REDF, announced in January.

According to John Mulholland, Chief Executive with Laois County Council, The Cube has the potential to support and stimulate the creation of up to 260 jobs over the next few years.

“The Cube will be a multi-point incubation hub and an integral part of our plans to make Portlaoise a low-carbon centre of excellence,” Mulholland said.

Industry supports

The aim of The Cube will be to help businesses transition to an efficient, low-carbon operating model.

“It is envisaged that The Cube will be a major collaborative initiative, potentially the first of its kind in the region, which will have a significant impact here in the midlands, but also nationally and internationally,” Mulholland said.

“It will help Laois to attract and develop companies with a low-carbon focus, delivering jobs and innovation in the emerging low-carbon economy.”

In doing so, Mulholland said The Cube would act as a catalyst for industry, thereby supporting many of the steps necessary to meet targets set out in “Climate Action Plan, 2019”, the climate action priority of Project Ireland 2040, published by the government in June 2019.

The Cube will provide low-carbon services in the midlands region through a number of initiatives in partnership with regional enterprise and educational and training experts.

“It will also act as an incubation hub for high potential start-ups and SMEs with a focus on sustainability and decarbonisation across all sectors,” Mulholland said.

“The provision of world-class training and new skill development will be critical, helping the region to upskill and avail of the ‘green collar’ jobs that will be created with the ultimate aim of achieving a net zero carbon economy.”

Companies connected to The Cube will be encouraged to share low-carbon learnings, knowledge and skills.

Collaborative focus

The Cube will also work collaboratively with the government and stakeholders spanning industry, academia and research to drive innovation, create employment, and attract Foreign Direct Investment to the midlands region.

The Cube will also work to ease the transition to low-carbon energy production and infrastructure for businesses located in the midlands.

“On a national level, and more specifically in the context of the Midlands, energy production has been an integral part of life both economically and on a community level,” Mulholland said.

The Cube will be supported by both Laois County Council and Local Enterprise Office Laois, tapping into existing collaboration between both organisations to make Portlaoise the first Low-Carbon Town (LCT) in Ireland.

“I think it’s fair to say we all know that evidence of climate change is now beyond doubt. The time for debate has long since passed and action at local level is now necessary,” Mulholland said.

“We are encouraged greatly by the involvement of local communities in Laois in trying to support the national and global effort to stabilise climate change and we are further encouraged by the pledges and policies of Laois based business and industry in this important area.

“We want to use this as the backdrop for new industry, new employment and new tourism in Laois.

“I am of the view that, through a local partnership approach across community and business, we are on the road to achieving this.”

J17 National Enterprise Park

The decision by Laois County Council in 2017 to develop an 80-acre enterprise park on the outskirts of Portlaoise is already paying off.

On foot of an overall investment of €5.5 million by Laois County Council in developing supporting infrastructure, the J17 National Enterprise Park in Togher has been chosen by Glanbia, the global nutrition group, to be home to a €130 million food manufacturing facility.

To date, the council have invested €5.5 million in the purchase of the site and provision of services.

Glanbia and its US partner Leprino Foods announced plans to build a new mozzarella cheese manufacturing facility in Portlaoise in 2018 and broke ground on the site late last year. When it opens next year, the facility will create close to 80 new jobs.

“Enterprise Ireland secured this Glanbia project for Laois against strong competition from other locations. It is one of the biggest such FDI developments in the Irish food sector in recent years,” John Mulholland said.

“The investment will deliver a positive impact, not only to Laois but to the region, supporting sustainable economic growth, regional development and secure employment.

Glanbia is one of three companies that have already committed to locating operations at J17 National Enterprise Park, which is situated close to M7/M8 National Motorway Network, facilitating easy access to Cork, Limerick and Dublin.

“At capacity, we would expect the J17 National Enterprise Park to create over 300 jobs, but that figure is dependent on job density per hectare and could easily reach more than 500,” Mulholland said.

“The vision for J17 is to deliver a viable economic zone, as a National Enterprise Park, and in accordance with a masterplan for the area,” John Mulholland said.

“It is located on the national motorway, offers access to rail networks and is relatively close to the greater Dublin area.

“The development of J17 National Enterprise Park builds will create a massive opportunity and one that could play a crucial role in ensuring the future well-being and prosperity, not only of Portlaoise, but the wider midlands region.”

About Connect2Laois

Laois County Council, through its Business Support Unit, takes a hands-on and a personal interest in supporting each new business.

It does this in a number of ways: through capital investment, mentoring, training, capacity building of collaborative networks and clusters, to foster a greater entrepreneurial culture in Co. Laois.

Connect2Laois was established by Laois County Council in 2016 to act as an open and informative forum supporting connections for the local business community and promoting Laois as a destination for investment.

It also aims to embrace a partnership approach to economic development in the county and to share information and resources with partners, such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

“The aim of Connect2Laois is to market the county to make it a distinctive location within the midlands for attracting inward investment and to support indigenous enterprise,” John Mulholland, chief executive at Laois County Council said.

“A dedicated website - Connect2Laois.ie - has been developed to support Laois businesses and to reach out to the county’s Diaspora to further support and encourage investment in Laois.”

About LEO Laois

Local Enterprise Office Laois is one of 31 LEOs operating within the Local Authority network in Ireland, offering valuable support to entrepreneurs, early-stage promoters, start-ups and small businesses looking to expand.

Situated at County Hall in Portlaoise, LEO Laois aims to drive job creation at a local level through a range of services designed to promote entrepreneurship, foster business start-ups and develop existing small and micro businesses.

“Our role, as LEO Laois, is to drive the development of local enterprise, putting local micro and small business at the heart of job creation,” Evelyn Reddin, head of enterprise at Local Enterprise Laois, explained.

“We support business start-ups and work to increase the job potential of new and existing micro and small businesses with information, advice, training, mentoring, seminars and selective financial support.”

LEO Laois (Localenterprise.ie/Laois) plays a key role in supporting entrepreneurship and enterprise development, alongside other key stakeholders in the county, to ensure a more coordinated approach to enterprise support.

“The impact of Covid 19 has been very damaging to the social and economic wellbeing of County Laois. It has left many businesses facing an uncertain future and critical challenges, including closure along with cash flow and financial difficulties,” Reddin said.

LEO Laois has been responding to the current crisis by working with businesses in the county, helping them to avail of the business response supports introduced by the government earlier this year.

“These supports have been designed to help businesses stabilise and adapt to the evolving situation, in preparation for getting back on the road to recovery,” Reddin said.

“Our ongoing focus at LEO Laois is to ensure that businesses in the county are in the strongest position possible in the face of this unprecedented scenario.”

The past eight months had revealed the strength, resilience and courage of businesses across the county, Reddin added.

“Our priority now is to continue to support business owners here in Laois over the coming months as they plan their recovery,” she said.

“Like every other business in the county, we at LEO Laois have had to change how we have operated through Covid, so we understand what our clients are going through.

“Our staff began working remotely back in March and we launched a range of online interactive training programmes and other supports to help them through Covid-19.

“We are continuing to deliver all of our training and mentoring free-of-charge and remotely via online platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.”

Demand for LEO supports has increased significantly in the months since the onset of Covid-19, according to Reddin.

“We have had businesses from all sectors engaging with us this year, some for the very first time,” she said.

“The Trading Online Voucher Scheme, which supports businesses to trade online, increased by 600 per cent compared to 2019.”

In addition to Covid-19, businesses in Laois and elsewhere in Ireland now face the added challenge of preparing for Brexit.

“We are continuing to encourage businesses to prepare through mentoring and customs training to ensure they are prepared for the complex changes coming down the track,” Reddin said,

According to Jayne Delaney, operations director at Integrileads, the supports offered by LEO Laois played a pivotal role in helping to get the Mountrath start-up off the ground.

Delaney established Integrileads in February 2019 with co-founders Eimear O’Connor and Aisling Kirwan.

“We schedule high-quality appointments with key decision-makers and influencers on behalf of the sales teams within technology companies,” Delaney explained.

Seventy per cent of Integrilead’s clients are based outside Ireland in countries including Britain, Sweden, Norway and Israel.

“LEO Laois were helping us even before we were IntegriLeads,” Delaney said. “Prior to setting up the company, we decided to visit their office and they gave us lots of information on supports like the Priming Grant, Start Your Own Business course, Trading Online voucher and mentoring opportunities.

“Once we started trading, they reached out to tell us about Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur (IBYE) competition. We decided to enter and won Best Start-Up in Laois, which resulted in great publicity for the company as well as a monetary prize.

“After the competition, we availed of both their mentoring facility and Priming Grant. LEO Laois have now selected us as the best enterprise to represent the county at this year’s National Enterprise Awards.

“They have been a great advocate of IntegriLeads and their support has played a significant role in our development as a company.”

Interileads three co-founders are planning further growth for the company in 2021.

“We are expanding our service lines to include account-based appointment setting and outsourced business development, so we can offer more choices to our clients while maintaining our core appointment-setting service,” Delaney said.

“We also hope to put more focus on targeting companies in areas like the US and Australia to grow our client base across different time-zones.

“Beyond 2021, we have some exciting development plans and hope with the continued support of LEO Laois that we can complete the relevant research and development required to ensure success.

“We are excited for 2021 and beyond. As Covid-19 has shown us all, we don’t know what is around the corner, but we will certainly be ready to adapt and respond to it when necessary.”

For more information on Integrileads, log on to integrileads.com

About Greenfield Global

Greenfield Global Inc is a global leader in the production of ethanol, high-purity specialty alcohols and solvents.

Established in 1989 and headquartered in Toronto, Canada, the company has 12 operations across North America and customers in more than 50 countries.

It is also a new arrival to the Irish market where it will open new EU manufacturing headquarters in Portlaoise in 2021, creating 75 jobs over five years.

Construction work on the 3,800 sq. m. facility began last year at the IDA Business & Technology Park on Mountrath Road.

“The choice of location was critical for us as a company, because we supply many life science companies in Ireland and other parts of Europe,” Ken Finegan, managing director of Greenfield Global in Ireland, said.

“Laois gives us easy access to the local motorways, to Dublin port and to a skilled workforce. We look forward to building a long-lasting relationship with the local community surrounding our facility.”

The 75 high-end jobs that will be created at the facility will span commercial manufacturing, process sciences, quality assurance and control, supply chain and various support functions.

A further 170 jobs will be created during the construction of the facility, one of the first Near Zero Energy Buildings to be completed in Ireland under new European standards.

“We are very proud our new facility will be one of the first NZEB in the country as it fits perfectly into our sustainability mission statement in how we protect our planet,” Finegan said.

“We have invested in both the fabric of the building design and renewable low energy technologies to make our building and processes as energy efficient as possible.”

Finegan said the supports on offer to global companies in Ireland had been key to the decision to set up the Greenfield Global base in Portlaoise.

“IDA Ireland has been a huge support to Greenfield Global from the very beginning of concept discussions and site selection through to the present day,” he said.

“As a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), it is important to have a trusted partner to guide you through the various aspects of setting up a new business overseas.”

For more, see greenfield.com

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