The economy in the Mid South West (MSW) will be supercharged under plans laid out in an ambitious Regional Economic Strategy which promises to transform the region.
Developed as a collaboration between Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and Mid Ulster District Council, the strategy is centred on boosting productivity.
The strategy, developed following extensive research and analysis of the region’s economy and informed by engagement with the major employers throughout the region, identifies challenges and opportunities and sets out four pillars to guide investment and grow the collective economy.
The pillars are: future proofing the skills base, enabling infrastructure, boosting innovation and digital capacity and building a high performing tourism economy.
By focusing on these pillars, the overriding goals of increasing productivity, driving business growth in the region, fully realising sectoral strengths and opportunities, creating more and better-paid jobs and ensuring the ongoing internationalisation of MSW can be achieved.
The strategy sets out a number of potential projects under each of the pillars which, with investment, would help boost productivity. These include further development of critical road infrastructure; the implementation of a Skills Action Plan; the development of an Innovation and Skills Academy through the South West College and an Agri Food Robotics Centre, at CAFRE Loughry Campus; as well as the development of a life and health science opportunity in Carn, Craigavon; delivery of a MSW destination tourism experience; and, further development of cross-border assets such as the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark.
The Regional Economic Strategy will enable the Mid South West Region to leverage financial investment from a range of sources – such as the Growth Deal funding announced by the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive, the PEACE PLUS Programme, the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund, Innovate UK and other central government funding.
The strategy had been due to launch in spring 2020 but was postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Its overriding aims are more relevant than ever as the region recovers and rebuilds.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “By joining forces, the three councils within the Mid South West have developed a plan which will transform not just the region, but the wider economy. The Mid South West Regional Economic Strategy is aligned with the recovery plans of central government and is particularly relevant as the economy recovers from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“As someone who grew up and lives in the Mid South West, it is particularly pleasing to see a roadmap laid out for this vibrant region, one which can only benefit from a joined up approach.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The Regional Economic Strategy is a suitably ambitious plan for the Mid South West Region, which has immense potential and much to offer.
“As we set about rebuilding our economy, we know it needs to be fairer and more regionally balanced. It also has to be greener and more sustainable. The £252 million Growth Deal funding package that has been secured for the Mid South West is a fantastic and unique opportunity. This strategy will help to ensure the right initiatives are put in place to help the region reach its full potential and achieve prosperity for all the people of the area.”
Economy Minister Diane Dodds commented: “This strategy provides an excellent framework to support the identification of the right type of Growth Deal project and the Councils are to be congratulated for coming together and working so constructively to secure funding for their growth deal and the development of their Regional Economic Strategy. Key to success will be sustained industry engagement and It is critical that the Region ensures there is a robust mechanism in place to ensure meaningful engagement so that they can shape the innovation and digital projects to ensure they deliver their needs.”
Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, Chair of the Mid South West Region Governance Steering Group, said: “The Mid South West Regional Economic Strategy sets out a plan to help our businesses to scale, export and become more profitable. We are going to work together to ensure that we achieve this ambition, thereby boosting productivity across the region, ensuring a more prosperous future and rebalancing our regional economy.
Darragh Cullen, Managing Director of EDGE Innovate which hosted the launch event, said: “Along with a number of other major employers in the Mid South West I was involved in the Business Reference Group which contributed to the development of the Regional Economic Strategy. By addressing our challenges and putting in place the structures and interventions which will enable businesses to do what we do best, the strategy will allow us and other businesses in this region to excel.”