Westpark Shannon could one day employ 5,000: O’Connell

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

THE Government has grand ambitions to attract global players to the International Aviation Services Centre at Shannon but a cluster of such businesses is already successfully operating out of Westpark Shannon.

THE Government has grand ambitions to attract global players to the International Aviation Services Centre at Shannon but a cluster of such businesses is already successfully operating out of Westpark Shannon.

Along with aviation, the business park has attracted a solid nucleus of firms in financial services, ICT and logistics, sectors managing director Brian O’Connell says are a natural fit.

Planned as a state-of-art location for 21st century business, Westpark has been open since 2005 and its 32 companies now employ 750 people.

Australian financial services company Pepper Finance is expected to occupy new offices in Westpark in the coming weeks. Three of the seven buildings granted permission 10 years ago are complete and Mr O’Connell said the campus could one day see up to 5,000 employed with the overall investment reaching towards €200 million.

One might expect that that an ambitious Irish property project delivered in the last decade would have debt problems but that is emphatically not the case, said Mr O’Connell, a native of County Limerick.

“It’s quite the opposite in fact. We have a bank that is not in NAMA and we have an excellent working relationship with the bank. Our gearing and borrowing was very reasonable and very correct from day one and it remains correct. That’s where we sit in relation to all of that. Equally important is that when we did finish construction in 2008 we were able to batten down the hatches on that side of the business in an orderly way we were able to discharge all our debts and pay everyone what was due, whether it was design or construction related or what have you. All of that was taken care of,” he said.

Clare County Council has recently granted a five-year extension to Westpark’s planning permission but Mr O’Connell is no rush to “put a shovel in the ground” and is instead concentrating on looking after existing customers and attracting new ones to the hilltop business campus they said could not be developed.

Westpark caters to everyone from the established multinational names like GE and DHL to ambitious high potential start-ups. It even has state agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and the National Employment Rights Authority as tenants.

On one of the 4m wide corridors he describes as “a streetscape”, Mr O’Connell shows one of the four offices occupied by aircraft leasing firm Genesis prior to its multimillion merger with Dutch firm Aer Cap four years ago.

“When John McMahon set up his business, he came into us and his second move was in here to a 4,000 square foot space and about 20 people. He then expanded upstairs about a year later and took out about 10,000 square foot. Thereafter he expanded again and there was an acquisition by AerCap. So the story here was that Genesis had four moves within four years and that is a testament to the flexibility we can offer our customers. It is a new model and a break away from the draconian model of years ago; of 35-year leases, of no break clauses, of ‘I never want to see you just send me the money’,” Mr O’Connell said.

Attention to his clients’ needs is central to what Westpark does, whether that is making boardroom and conference facilities available; fresh local produce at the campus restaurant, landscaping and other details.

“If it’s a frosty morning here, we have a man in a five o’clock gritting the roads so once people start arriving at 6.30am, everything is done. The challenge is to get to our entrance,” he said.

Mr O’Connell glows with pride on what advance planning means Westpark can offer its clients. A €1.2 million upfront investment was made in telecoms infrastructure which means Westpark customers enjoy the same level of service they would enjoy had they decided to locate in the IFSC or CityWest in the capital.

And as co-founder of Atlantic Way and a former chairman of the Shannon Airport Authority, regional development matters to him. He welcomes the new plan for the airport, the restructuring of Shannon Development, the amalgamation of Limerick City and County Councils and strategic plan for the estuary.

While the state-owned airport company may be looking to attract aviation companies to Shannon, he doesn’t see the new airport as eating his lunch.

“Bring it on. Bring the companies in here and we will compete on the service offering we provide. But we want to see scale and size in this region. The success of Westpark is not just Westpark. The success of Westpark is a greater, wider successful Shannon Airport and Mid-West region. We are part of that, you don’t do it on your own.

“What I do see as important is collaboration and co-operation and a new approach to re-harnessing all the success we have had over the years, one singular message going out, if we have that there is tremendous opportunity in this region. I have made a very substantial investment in this region. I believe in it. I wouldn’t have made that investment if I didn’t believe in the region.”