A one day conference that examined how Carrick-on-Suir’s economy can fight back in the recession last week has come up with a shopping list of ideas to revive the town’s fortunes.
The “No Bailout for Black Tom” Economic Forum attended by 60 Carrick-on-Suir business, political and community leaders took place at Ormond Castle last Friday.
It was addressed by Carrick-on-Suir-born Irish Times Editor Geraldine Kennedy, Clonea Power-born economist Jim Power, Blarney Woollen Mills and Dovehill chief Freda Hayes and Kilsheelan entrepreneur Ed O’Donnell of O’Donnell Crisps as well as Seamus Campbell, Chairman of Carrick-on-Suir Business Association.
The event, officially opened by Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Cllr Richie O’Neill, was organised by the Carrick-on-Suir Tourism and Economic Development Committee (COTEDC) in conjunction with the Friends of Carrick-on-Suir group, which comprises people from Carrick-on-Suir and its hinterland, who have achieved local and national prominence in their fields.
Tony Musiol, Chairman of COSTEDC, said the forum came up with about five areas the Committee will now focus on and distill down into between three and five specific ideas for projects to roll out for the town.
The five areas the forum’s delegates agreed on were how to sell and market the town, the renewal of the town centre and how to get large retail outlets to locate there rather than on the outskirts; developing initiatives in the food and tourism sectors and encouraging start up businesses to locate in the town.
Mr Musiol said there was a tremendous turnout to the conference and there was a great “unity of purpose” among the delegates.
He said the Committee would report back to those who took part in the forum on the proposed projects it will come up with in June and will probably give an update in October. He stressed that the projects they decide to pursue will take some time to deliver but they felt it was better to get them right rather then going for a “quick headline”.
“We want to really come up with projects that are practical and most of the community can buy into, “ he told The Nationalist.
Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy reported to the conference on the findings of a features series called Uptown Downtown, the Irish Times published recently on how five Irish towns that did well in the boom were faring in the recession.
The towns were Youghal, Charlestown, Longford, Drogheda and Dun Laoghaire. Ms Kennedy said their stories of neglected main streets, out of town retail parks sucking trade away from traditional areas or the grinding effects of unemployment were the realities confronted by many towns across the State, which face the prospect of trying to reinvent themselves in very changed circumstances
“What we learned through the Uptown Downtown series is that towns increasingly, will have to draw on their inner strengths and resilience to pull through.
“We cannot expect the Government to provide all the answers, even if you believe all the answers it tries to give. It can be an enabler and facilitator of growth but towns like Carrick-on-Suir need to attempt to lead the way themselves. There is no shortage of potential ideas to breathe new life into town.
She outlined that some of the communities featured in Uptown Downtown wanted greater powers for local authorities or town councils to empower communities to make their own decisions; the introduction of more flexible forms of rate setting or encouraging businesses back into town centres through tax incentives.
They wanted local entrepreneurs and businesses to be supported rather than most of the focus going on attracting foreign-direct investment; better marketing of tourism and ensuring everyone from business owners and local government to tourism chiefs and residents groups co-operate around a shared vision for a town’s future.
“We need to draw on the combined talents of everyone, that means business owners, families, schools, tourism chiefs, local government and others, if we are to realise the full potential of towns like Carrick-on-Suir,” she concluded.
Clonea-Power born economist Jim Power echoed Geraldine Kennedy’s message that Carrick-on-Suir can’t expect Government to come up with the solutions to its problems and create jobs or wait for some foreign multi-national like Pfizer to set up a plant in the town.
He outlined a number of areas Carrick-on-Suir needed to focus on to improve its economy. “From an outsiders perspective as someone living in Dublin for other 30 years, the first thing is the visual appearance. Any town needs it. It needs to be clean, litter free and it needs not to have the footpaths covered in chewing gum.
“Secondly, the variety of retail offering is so important. Everytime I sit up in Dovehill having a coffee I always think of the impact it has on Carrick-on-Suir. I think it’s incredibly positive. A lot of people going to Dovehill have to pass through Carrick-on-Suir. I don’t think we should see new retailers setting up as a threat,” he said but pointed out that he regarded Tesco as an “exception” to this.
Mr Power said if you have a sufficient offering of retail businesses in a town, you will arrest the leakage of spending out the town. The town also needed a decent offering of leisure businesses such as restaurants. He personally would love to see a book shop in the town.
The economist also said Carrick-on-Suir needed an open business environment and needed to let people know it was a good town to do business in and set up in business. Key to this was a pro-active local authority. Entrepreneurs should be given every assistance to set up business in Carrick-on-Suir. There was an awful lot of empty office space around the country and he believed local authorities examine carefully at how it could make that space available to entrepreneurs.
There also needed to be focus on innovation and there was huge potential to work with educational institutions like WIT. Mr Power added that the most important thing was to create a marketing plan for Carrick-on-Suir to get the message out to the public about what was going on in the town and that it was open for business.