Cork: Exciting plans on the horizon

Cork finds itself in the vanguard of innovation with employment among IDA clients increasing by 31 per cent in the past five years – and exciting new developments for its Docklands and Custom House Quay areas in the works

Cork is beginning to emerge from the rigours of recent months with a fresh focus on the future and a renewed sense of optimism. Picture: Getty Images

Midway through 2021, Cork is beginning to emerge from the rigours of recent months with a fresh focus on the future and a renewed sense of optimism, fuelled by recent developments positioning the southern capital in the vanguard of Irish progress and innovation.

Just as news emerged in March that Cork city would soon play host to Ireland’s tallest building – a new 34-storey tower planned for Custom House Quay – the government announced a massive funding boost for the regeneration of Cork Docklands, the biggest and most ambitious scheme of its kind anywhere in the country.

The granting of planning permission for the record-breaking 34-storey hotel tower at Custom House Quay will form part of a €350 million development by Tower Holdings on the historic site owned formerly by Cork Harbour Commissioners.

It has been heralded locally as an emblem of the city’s steady emergence as a progressive urban hub, offering a vital economic “counterbalance” to Dublin in the south.

Far-reaching plans for the regeneration of a 146-acre area in the city’s docklands will be on an even greater scale.

Currently the most ambitious regeneration plan under way in Ireland, Cork Docklands will be developed as a “town within a city”, with a population of 20,000 and around 29,000 jobs.

In March, the government committed to investing €353.4 million in the scheme, under the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund. It is envisaged that Cork Docklands will attract further private sector investment topping €5 billion over the next 20 years.

Already, the city’s skyline is changing with the recent additions of major design-led office schemes, including John Cleary’s Penrose Dock, O’Callaghan Properties’ Navigation Square, and Horgan’s Quay, a co-development between Clarendon Properties and BAM.

And Cork has also taken a leading position in the Venture Capital leagues, with Amarenco securing the largest backing of any company in Ireland in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to the latest Venture Pulse report from KPMG.

The Cork-based solar power company raised €150 million last November from investors, including Tikehau Capital, a global alternative asset management group.

“There have been some very exciting local announcements in the green energy sector,” Frank Walsh, a partner with Enterprise Equity in Cork, said.

“Green energy company EI-H2 recently announced plans for the country’s first green hydrogen facility at Aghada in Cork Harbour — a €120 million proposition, which will create more than 85 jobs.

“Simply Blue Energy, a marine project developer of sustainable floating wind, wave energy and low-impact aquaculture projects, has also announced more jobs and projects for the Cork area.”

And, Cork’s status as a growing hub for Foreign Direct Investment is also on the up. Over the past ten years, the number of people working for foreign-owned companies in the county has doubled to almost 43,000.

Some of the biggest and best-known multinational employers in Cork include Apple, IBM, Dell EMC, VMWare and Boston Scientific.

US company Varonis recently announced plans to create 60 jobs in Cork over three years, doubling its existing workforce, at the opening of a new office on Penrose Quay.

The data security and analytics company is one of a growing number of players in Cork’s “red hot” cybersecurity cluster, according to Walsh.

“International operators like McAfee, Symantec, FireEye and, most recently, Varonis, are all legitimising Cork as a global centre of excellence in cybersecurity,” he said.

Smartech247, the local cybersecurity company founded by Ronan Murray, is also going from strength to strength. It recently announced plans to create 30 new jobs.

Murray is also at the helm of Getvisibility, another successful Cork company. The data security firm recently closed a €1.25 million funding round led by Sure Valley Ventures.

“Most of the technology companies we are involved with have been highly resilient to the pandemic,” Walsh said.

One of Enterprise Equity’s own investees in Cork is Keelvar, a strategic sourcing software company, which raised $18 million in Series A funding last year.

“Keelvar has performed outstandingly well through the pandemic,” Walsh said. “That international funding originated right at the start of lockdown one last year and closed without delay in May.

“Altada, another Cork-based AI Company, has also been making the news with fundraising and high-level hiring.”

Altada closed a €1.3 million investment round last year, bringing total funding in the Cork-based data compliance and privacy management start-up to €4 million.

“It’s no surprise that Cork is a hotbed for AI, given UCC’s longstanding investment in the area, led primarily by Professor Barry O’Sullivan,” Walsh said.

Right now, 194 IDA-supported companies have a presence in Cork city and county, Ray O’Connor, the state agency’s manager for the southwest region, said.

“Cork is home to a strong cluster of more than 70 international technology companies, spanning cybersecurity, IC [integrated circuit] design, manufacturing and software development,” O’Connor said.

“The growth of cybersecurity in Cork over the past decade has been impressive, with new companies being attracted to Cork by the existing cluster,” O’Connor added.

Varonis Systems established its Global Security Operations Centre in Cork back in 2016, and is now doubling its workforce in the city over three years.

Such announcements were “extremely significant” for the local economy, because they acted as “a strong reference seller” for other multinationals seeking a base in Ireland, O’Connor said.

IDA Ireland was targeting 118 investments in total for the southwest region for the four year-period from 2021 to 2024, he said.

“Cork has seen consistent FDI growth year-on-year since 2010, and employment among IDA clients has increased by 31 per cent in the past five years,” O’Connor added.

Whatever the outcome of the ongoing push for global tax reform, O’Connor said Ireland had more to offer multinationals seeking a suitable base in Europe.

“Stability, consistency, and a talented workforce are also important considerations for investors. Ireland offers that, and more. Our value proposition remains strong,” O’Connor said.