As a proud Kerry man living in Dublin, I enjoy getting back to the kingdom to visit my family as often as possible, though being a party of five now, the journey is a larger undertaking than it once was. On one such visit last summer, I brought my oldest boy to Tralee to do a little retail therapy on a beautiful summer afternoon. The pièce de résistance as far as we were concerned was the new Sports Direct store on the Mall – a store that any suburb of the capital would envy. Our normal Saturday afternoon involves a visit to the Pavilions shopping center in Swords. It’s about a 20-minute walk from home, and walking there is normally met with more approval than walking laps of the estate.
The multi-storey car park in the middle of town is closed, but we get parked around the corner on Ashe St. and make the short walk down to The Mall. After a few minutes of browsing through the vast selection of items on the ground floor alone, Adam asks under his breath, “Where are all the people?”. It took a few seconds for the penny to drop. I looked around and he was right. The familiar hustle and bustle of a Saturday shopping trip had been replaced by an eerie emptiness, a void only half masked by the up-tempo music playing on the sound system. We were in this state-of-the-art sports shop, in a county and in a town with a rich sporting pedigree, on a Saturday afternoon in July, and we virtually had the place to ourselves. There is something fundamentally wrong with that!
It has been almost 20 years since I lived in Kerry. I had heard friends and family members talking about the demise of rural Ireland, but here I had seen it first hand. And were it not for the comment of a ten year old boy, I would have remained oblivious to the reality surrounding me. Since that day, I have given a lot of thought to the plight of rural Ireland. The usual questions arose. Where are all the young people? Where did they go? Why did they go? The usual glib response is that they went to Australia when the recession took hold. While that may be true for some, I don’t believe that it is the underlying reason for the decline. In fact, the real question I should be asking stares back at me in the mirror every morning. Why did I go?
When I was growing up, making a career choice started with one question, “Are you going to do a trade or are you going to college?”. As a general rule, those who chose a trade stayed in the locality and the others moved away – either during the college years or upon gaining employment after graduation. Nowadays, the option of a trade is virtually non existent. If you want to be a gardener these days you nearly need an honour degree in horticultural science! There must be a degree course available for just about every job in Ireland at this stage. After three or four years in one of Ireland’s cosmopolitan centers, the draw back to a rural existence becomes increasing faint. Add in potential job locations and the draw dims further. In my case, it had been practically extinguished.
So, how can that be changed? What can we do to turn that fading draw into a bright shining beacon? It’s not as if everybody living in Dublin enjoys paying ~€2000 per month in rent to spend a couple of hours every day in traffic on the M50. The alternative of working for a large financial or technology company in rural Ireland isn’t a reality. But why shouldn’t it be? Why should somebody wade through the urban jungle to a company’s head office to stare at a computer screen all day and chat to colleagues on an internal messaging system? How would this be any different from working in a Digital Hub which could be located in any town in Ireland?
Currently, the market for finance and technology jobs is very competitive. Personally, I receive cold calls on a weekly basis, with eager recruiters keen to sell their role to the best of their ability. However, the one aspect of the role that they cannot change is the location. Without knowing a lot about the recruitment industry, I imagine this is the biggest obstacle that they face. “Where? Leopardstown? No, I don’t think I would fancy that commute.” If I had a penny for every time I had that conversation I might have a euro at this stage. The conversations could have been a lot different if there was an option of working from a Digital Hub outside of the capital.
Working from a remote office, though a relatively alien concept in Ireland, is not that uncommon in the United States. With a market valuation of around 47 billion dollars, New York based company WeWork is the market leader in remote working, managing over 10 million square feet of remote office space in 562 locations across 97 cities worldwide. Though significantly different in size, a small scale model of a similar nature is imminently achievable in Ireland. While we already have a sizeable number of standalone Digital hubs operating independently across the country, developing these into a network of co-operating hubs would provide a much more powerful proposition for large companies looking to locate or expand in Ireland.
To focus on Dublin in particular, while office space is being constructed at near record levels, accommodation remains a major issue. In the latest property rental review by daft.ie, the average rent being paid in Westmeath (€941 per calendar month) is now one of the highest in the country. This is not down to the sudden emergence of Mullingar or Athlone as engines of the Irish economy. It is because Dublin’s commuter belt has been pushed into the midlands. As more jobs are created in the city center, motorways and public transport networks become increasingly congested. Spending a large percentage of a day commuting, to sit in front of a computer, is unproductive and an extremely inefficient use of one’s time.
The benefits of working from a Digital Hub are numerous. Commute times, along with carbon emissions, are reduced. The load on transport networks are eased. Accommodation requirements move from urban centers to rural neighbourhoods. Schools with dwindling class numbers are replenished. Quality of lives improve and communities prosper and become vibrant. Similarly, there are great benefits for employers. When trying to attract new employees, location becomes less of an issue. Headcount can be increased without needing to buy or build additional office space. Staff retention improves, and the energy levels and productivity of the employees increase. Indeed, several more paragraphs could be filled listing the benefits, many of which I probably haven't even considered.
While this concept is not a silver bullet solution to the many issues facing both rural and urban Ireland, it is a concept that would undoubtedly benefit both. With the backing of a few major companies it could become a reality, even if only on a trial basis initially. The cost of doing nothing is far greater, and is already evident. Rural Ireland will continue to decline while urban Ireland chokes due to lack of capacity.
Contact us and we'll get back to you within 24 hours.
Swords, Co. Dublin, Ireland
+353 86 3118747