It is already home to a growing cohort of business innovators driving new developments in technology and science. Now, with the arrival of Munster Technological University (MTU), and an emerging network of entrepreneurial supports and resources, Kerry is positioning itself to take centre-stage in the knowledge economy in the south-west.
The recently formed MTU represents a major advancement in the provision of third-level education to students, both national and international, and research and development centres that will offer valuable support companies in the region.
“One of our key strengths here in Kerry is that we have very strong networks, working together on the ground across the public and private sector is key, and this collaborative approach has only strengthened during the pandemic,” Moira Murrell, the Chief Executive of Kerry County Council, said.
“Over the last number of years, we have very much invested in enterprise, innovation and remote working hubs across the county. We see that as key to promoting Kerry as a progressive place to do business and to retaining our educated workforce.”
These facilities include the RDI Hub in Killorglin, opened last January as a joint venture between Fexco, MTU, Kerry County Council and Enterprise Ireland.
Other crucial hubs in the county include Tom Crean Business Centre in Tralee and the Agritech Centre of Excellence; Killarney Technology Innovation Centre; Dingle Creativity & Innovation Hub; Sneem Digital Hub and Carnegie CoWorking Space Hub Castleisland. There are also a number of private and community hubs situated throughout the county.
“As people have moved to remote working en masse in recent months, our investment in these hubs has really come to the fore. The future for us is in a modern digital economy with strong connectivity,” Murrell said.
The network of co-working, innovation and community hubs provide an alternative and attractive choice for companies, employees and freelancers to work remotely, while staying connected, according to Murrell. They also create landing spaces and potential second-site locations for FDI companies.
The Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub is, meanwhile, making great strides in its aim to support business on the Dingle peninsula and promote sustainable practices.
The hub recently secured EU funding for a pilot project that will trial the use of sensor technology on farms in west Kerry with the aim of reducing carbon emissions.
The hub is supported by Enterprise Ireland, Eir, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Kerry County Council, Net Feasa and the Dingle Business Chamber.
Heralding MTU as a ‘new dawn’ for third level education in the county, Murrell said the official launch of the university at the start of the year would play a crucial role in strengthening the local economy and fostering further links between industry and academia.
“Reputationally, IT Tralee has been an exceptional college offering a first-rate level of education. Now, with the establishment of MTU, Tralee has become a university town and Kerry a university county,” she said.
“We will have even more scope to attract inward investment into the county and to stimulate indigenous business and innovation.”
Kerry is home to manufacturing heavyweights such as Liebherr Container Cranes in Killarney, Dairymaster in Causeway, Astellas in Killorglin and Tricel in Killarney.
Kerry Group has grown since its launch in Listowel in 1972 to become a global operation employing 26,000 people in 32 countries.
“Kerry has a vibrant science and technology cluster in the county which is supported by Kerry Scitech.
The cluster includes FDI companies such as JRI America Inc which has continued to expand in recent months and growing indigenous companies.
Fexco, meanwhile, has paved the way for the county’s growing fintech sector, with newer entrants including multinationals like JRI America Inc, and homegrown start-ups and spin-offs such as Taxamo and Arvoia.
In the tech sector, established tech successes like PulseLearning and Tweak.com are giving rise to a new generation of promising tech ventures, among them Wazp and Reamda.
Tourism is a key driver of economic activity in the county, supporting approximately one in five jobs.
“We are working very closely with Fáilte Ireland on the development of tourism across the county. A shared focus for both parties is digital tourism. That is a really important priority for us and Kerry Tourism Industry Federation, our other partner in this area,” Murrell said.
Green tourism is another priority for Kerry County Council and its partners in the sector. Work on two Kerry Greenways linking Tralee to Fenit and Kilmorna to Listowel began in November 2019.
A third 32-kilometre greenway is planned for South Kerry linking Glenbeigh and Cahersiveen, and running mainly along the former Southern and Western Railway route.
“The greenway programme we have planned for Kerry is substantial and reflects growing demand for recreational amenities that support green tourism, allowing people to get out into the open air and into nature, and facilitating hikers and cyclists,” Murrell said.
“There is a lot of collaboration ongoing behind the scenes here in the county even as the pandemic has impacted the tourism sector so much in recent months.
“We are very much moving forward hand-in-hand so we can ensure that we are well placed to restart tourism here as the country begins to reopen and travel picks up again in the future.”
“When the pandemic comes to an end, the importance of global connectivity offered by the airports in Kerry, Cork and Shannon will again come to fore for businesses based here, as will plans for the Macroom Bypass and the Foynes to Limerick Road,” Murrell said.
“Both will play a major role in strengthening our connectivity even more. In the meantime, we are continuing to work with our state partners Enterprise Ireland to support indigenous business and with IDA Ireland on the rollout of its new four-year strategy, which has a specific focus on regional development.”
Collaboration in the county is key to supporting the achievement of Project Ireland 2040 National Strategic Outcomes, Regional Economic and Spatial strategies and the Southwest Regional Enterprise Plan, both key priorities for Kerry County Council, Murrell said.