Limerick: the innovation capital

With a growing population, world-class education, top technologies and a major plan for the docklands, the city is well on the way to achieving the goals of Limerick Twenty Thirty

Five years on from its launch, Limerick Twenty Thirty is gathering momentum, with six landmark projects at various stages of development

Limerick is reinventing itself, with key stakeholders working together to lay the foundation for growth; one that will position the city and county as the economic linchpin of the Midwest and a beacon for green and digital progress, business innovation and world class education.

Already, Limerick is home to some of the world’s leading companies, among them Dell, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Edwards Lifesciences, Analog Devices and General Motors.

Regeneron, one of the biggest employers in the Midwest, operates Ireland’s largest biotech facility just outside Limerick city.

Homegrown success stories, meanwhile, include Kneat – the validation software company founded in Limerick in 2006 and now listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange – AMCS, the Castleroy-based recycling firm, and Kirby Group, the engineering firm with annual revenues of €360 million..

And, with the population of Limerick city and suburbs expected to rise by up to 60 per cent over the next 15 years, initiatives already under way are laying the foundations for crucial new infrastructure.

Five years on from its launch, Limerick Twenty Thirty is gathering momentum, with six landmark projects at various stages of development.

The first special purpose vehicle of its kind in the country, the designated activity company (DAC) was established in 2016 by Limerick City and County Council to stimulate the local economy by driving commercial development on disused sites.

With a target to develop 1.4 million sq ft of prime real estate property, Limerick Twenty Thirty has already let close to 500,000 sq ft of property.

The €20 million Gardens International development opened on Henry Street in 2019 with 112,000 sq ft of office space and capacity to accommodate a 500-strong workforce.

And work recently commenced on the €200 million development of the 3.7-acre Opera Site in Limerick city centre.

When complete, the single biggest commercial property investment in Limerick’s history at the junction of Patrick Street, Rutland Street and Bank Place, is expected to transform the city centre.

The Opera Site will have capacity to employ up to 3,000 people on a 550,000 sq ft campus, with a 14-storey tower block and mixed-use office retail and residential space centred around a 3,000 square metre public plaza.

Troy Studios is also going from strength to strength. Opened in 2017 on the former Dell site at Castletroy, Troy underwent further expansion in 2019, making it the largest film studio in Ireland.

Now with a capital portfolio of €1 billion, Limerick Twenty Thirty is ‘realising its vision’ to transform the city and county, and enable growth by encouraging future FDI investment, David Conway, its chief executive, said.

Elsewhere, Shannon Foynes Port Company is advancing plans laid out in its Docklands Framework to redevelop buildings and amenities on a 30-hectare site along the Dock Road.

The “non-core assets” presented an opportunity to reimagine the site as a new economic and employment hub close to the city centre, Pat Keating, chief executive of Shannon Foynes Port Company, said.

A key element of this plan is the 36,000 sq ft Bannatyne Mills building. “We have planning permission to convert that into potentially commercial office space,” Keating said.

US company Nautilus Technologies is, meanwhile, developing a floating data centre off the docklands, its first project in Europe.

The 10-megawatt data centre will float on a barge, cooled by water funnelled from the Shannon. Once up and running, it will provide a guide for Nautilus on building other floating data centres in Europe.

“The [docklands] project is moving, Covid has definitely impacted on that, but our ambitions as a company are full square on delivering the objectives of the framework strategy,” Keating said.

And, the county is leading in other ways too. This time last year, University of Limerick appointed the first ever woman president of an Irish university.

Kerstin Mey took over in the role in June 2020, having joined UL two years prior as vice-president and professor of visual culture.

Since her appointment at the helm of one of Ireland’s leading universities, UL has announced two new pioneering third level programmes in response to the fast-changing needs of the working world in Ireland and internationally.

The Immersive Software Engineering (ISE) programme at UL will launch in 2022, redefining computer science education in partnership with 40 leading technology companies, among them Stripe, Provizio, Transact Campus Inc and Analog Devices.

In a departure from existing computer science programmes, ISE students will take part in a series of paid residencies with participating companies, and learn practical problem-solving skills working in project teams at a new purpose-built studio at UL.

U@Work, another new industry-focused UL programme, recently secured more than €16 million in Human Capital Initiative funding.

Developed by the university in partnership with employers in the Midwest and beyond, its aim will be to “bring the worlds of education and work together,” with a particular focus on emerging high-tech skills, such as Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics and Cognitive Robotics.

The project would “build a flexible, technology-enhanced learning platform that responds to digitisation and the future world of work,” Mey said.

The existing world of work in Limerick has fared relatively well during the pandemic, according to new research released last month by Ernst & Young.

The EY Economic Monitor for Limerick, a biannual report commissioned by Limerick City and County, found that 860 jobs had been created in Limerick in the first quarter of 2021, a more than two-fold increase on the same period last year.

The report also pointed to strong start-up activity, with 194 new ventures emerging in the county in the first three months of the year.

For Limerick City and County Council chief executive Pat Daly, environmental sustainability will be at the heart of the council’s strategy for the future.

The Draft Limerick Development Plan 2022-2028 sets out a blueprint for the development of Limerick as an environmentally sustainable and carbon neutral economy, and a pioneer in sustainable growth.

This would be achieved through engagement, innovation and resilient urban development, Daly said, positioning Limerick in the years ahead as a leading location for “sustainable living in an increasingly digital world.”

Already, Limerick is one of just two EU Lighthouse Cities selected to take part in +CityxChange, a climate change pilot programme, which will lead the rest of Europe on how to reduce the carbon footprint of urban areas.

The county recently received a welcome boost with the announcement of €116 million in funding under the government’s Urban Regeneration and Development Fund.

URDF funding of €73.4 million will go towards the planned waterfront development, including the regeneration of the area around the former Cleeves site in the city, and the proposed pedestrian bridges and re-alignment of the road at Arthur’s Quay and Honan’s Quay.

A further €42.61 million will be allocated to the Living City initiative, which aims to revitalise the city centre, with a specific focus on underutilised Georgian buildings.

“Many transformational and innovative developments have been realised in recent years and Limerick is now recognised as a progressive, attractive and inclusive city with a vision as a green city region leveraging the natural assets of the majestic Shannon and its estuary,” Daly said.

“We are fast gaining a reputation as Ireland’s innovation capital, and we have firm plans to keep this momentum going until 2030 and beyond.”