Limerick business in review: Another packed year in 2017 for local firms

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

Two loan deals worth a total of €170m were signed in as many days during November to ensure Project Opera can commence. Andrew McDowell, Conn Murray and Denis Brosnan view 3D models of the development

Two loan deals worth a total of €170m were signed in as many days during November to ensure Project Opera can commence. Andrew McDowell, Conn Murray and Denis Brosnan view 3D models of the development

A RECAP of this year's biggest Limerick business stories as the economy's upward curve continued:

JANUARY

- The competition and consumer protection commission cleared the way for the €15m takeover of Barringtons Hospital by the Bon Secours group. Limerick's only private hospital is now known as Bon Secours Hospital at Barringtons. The firm pledged to invest €2m in the facility.

- Limerick City received a very poor report in the twice-yearly Irish Business Against Litter (Ibal) report. It was stripped of its status as being 'Clean to European Norms' by the An Taisce executives, while the southside suburb of Garryowen was bottom of the entire 40 area league, described as a 'litter blackspot'.

- Councillors voted through a massive 76% cut to the levies developers pay. The scheme meant developers paid €25 per square metre less then they did last year. The move was voted through in the hope it would aid development in Limerick. Mayor Stephen Keary later tried to extend this to cut to 90% but was defeated in his bid.

- Thirty permanent jobs and 100 building jobs were pledged after Mr Binman secured planning permission to build a waste transfer facility at the Dock Road. The controversial plan was transferred to An Bord Pleanala following opposition from residents. But the national appeals body cleared the way for the development in April.

- Optel Vision, a Canadian firm specialising in track-and-trace solutions for manufacturing facilities globally, unveiled plans to double its workforce, with the creation of 100 new roles. Later in the year, the firm cut 15 jobs blaming in a reduction in demand for its services.

- The Castletroy Park Hotel, owned by Supermacs supremo Pat McDonagh, underwent a €9m extension, resulting in 30 new bedrooms. He also announced plans for a new Supermacs restaurant at the Ballysimon Road. Some 150 jobs were created.

FEBRUARY

- Element Six announced 100 new jobs as part of a €7m investment at its Shannon base. Element Six produces synthetic diamond supermaterials.

MARCH

- The JP McManus-owned Adare Manor Hotel and golf resort reopened this autumn. This March, it announced 300 new jobs in the hospitality sector.

- The Sunday Times Rich List was published his month, and it put Castletroy brothers John and Patrick Collison firmly at the summit when it came to Limerick business people. Now based in the United States, the brothers' online payment firm Stripe, helped secure a combined net worth of €2.4bn. The pair actually outstripped philanthropist JP McManus, who had an estimated wealth of €1.07bn. Limerick-born developer Aidan Brooks also saw his wealth rise up to €576m. Also featured in he countdown were €115m lottery winner Dolores McNamara, Des and Jim Mulcair of Roadbridge and Kieran Curran from Ballyclough.

- The Limerick Chamber and Limerick City and County Council launched a brochure highlighting the attractiveness of the county as a place to do business. The brochure 'Invest Limerick' featured profiles of Kieran Harte, Uber, former Chamber president Catherine Duffy and Alice O'Dwyer, Cook Medical. Off the back of this a robust analysis of Limerick's level of competitiveness took place.

- Bruree businesswoman Bernie Carroll was named Limerick' Entrepreneur of the Year. Bernie, who founded Student Programmes Ireland, received the accolade at the Limerick final of the National Enterprise Awards.

- In an unprecedented move, a triumvirate of local business leaders warned against rejecting the controversial Northern Distributor Road plan. Barry O'Sullivan, Johnson and Johnson, Bill Doherty, Cook Medical and Catherine Duffy, Northern Trust warned councillors voting down the road for a second time would be 'disastrous' for jobs and investment in the region. Nearly two years after rejecting the initial plan, councillors reversed their decision in the main, passing the road plan in May.

APRIL

- A bus drivers strike saw trade fall at some city businesses by up to 25%.

- Ulster Bank announced plans to axe two of its Limerick branches - in Castletroy and Newcastle West. Fifteen jobs were lost.

- The Irish subsidiary of US car rental group Enterprise bought the car rental business of the Limerick based Dan Dooley group for an undisclosed sum.

- Moyross received a nice boost this month after retailer Iceland confirmed it was to open in the former Eurospar building at the Watch House Cross. Some 35 new positions were created.

- Work began at the Gardens International development, formerly the Hanging Gardens site in Henry Street. JJ Rhatigan was put in place on a €17m deal to convert the shell of the building to new offices for up to 700 staff.

- The group overseeing the development of Gardens International, Limerick Twenty Thirty appointed David Conway, the former chief executive of the national sports campus, and native of the city, as its first chief executive.

MAY

- One of the most senior executives in Northern Trust, Clive Bellows said he believes the company can add another 1,000 to its workforce in financial services at Plassey. He made the remarks at an event in the Clayton Hotel, focused on how to make the Mid-West region a financial services hub. The firm announced an additional 400 jobs the following month.

- Some 250 jobs were announced at Dromoland Castle as bosses began work on a €20m renovation of the landmark Clare hotel

- Finance Minister Michael Noonan announced he would step down as Finance Minister following the retirement of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. Mr Noonan also confirmed he would not be running in the next general election. Since taking up the role in 2011, Mr Noonan has overseen a reinvigoration of Limerick, which has seen its unemployment rates fall, and hundreds of IDA jobs created. Many commentators have credited him for the city's renaissance. The veteran TD, a former Fine Gael leader, served a ministry in every one of his party's administrations.

JUNE

- Limerick City and County Council this month unveiled long-awaited plans to transform O'Connell Street. More open spaces are being provided on the main thoroughfare, but contrary to many people's expectations, two lanes of traffic - one for cars, the other for buses - were maintained. A focal point of the €9m proposals will be the erection of a public plaza at Bedford Row and Thomas Street. But the plans only received a lukewarm reaction, with Hunt Museum chairman John Moran saying he feels a sense of "missed opportunity" for the city.

JULY

- Limerick Twenty Thirty formally sought planning permission for the €150m Project Opera scheme this month. The site at Patrick Street, once earmarked for a shopping centre, is planned to be developed as a massive "dynamic economic hub". Three towering office blocks, the largest measuring 14 storeys will be constructed, while there will be ancillary retail offerings. The plans - which are being paid for through European loans - it's hoped will bring up to 3,000 jobs to Limerick's urban area in what is the biggest project for the city in recent years. There has been a backlash to some elements of the plan from some groups, with calls for both social and affordable housing to be placed on site to tackle the crisis in this sector.

- An Bord Pleanala cleared the way for the Limerick Institute of Technology to build a new €14m campus at Coonagh Cross. The college is planning to transform a currently out-of-use building beside Tesco Ireland into a facility for 550 process engineering students. One hundred permanent jobs will be created, alongside 134 building staff - with the campus set to open this September next.

- The Limerick Chamber and Cork Chamber joined forces to produce a major report on the benefits of the proposed M20 motorway. The €1bn project could give rise to 5,500 positions along the corridor the joint report, carried out by Indecon predicted, with an exchequer benefit of €128m. Days after Budget 2018 was announced in November, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed the motorway would proceed.

AUGUST

- Leading city retailer Michael Gleeson called on government to correct an "anomaly" which means parents of some children whose feet measure size six or more have to pay an extra €10 to €15.

- Limerick city's only five star hotel, the Savoy Hotel unveiled €8m expansion plans which will result in 25 new jobs and the creation of 35 new rooms. It will also preserve the historic Mill building next door. But the plans have been referred to An Bord Pleanala, which is currently deliberating on them.

SEPTEMBER

- Between 30 and 50 high-end software jobs were announced at the former Bank Bar building after its occupants Teckro secured further international funding.

- A host of high-profile business figures were in attendance as a four-day oral hearing into Irish Cement's €10m plans to replace fossil fuels with used tyres and waste to produce the substance took place in the South Court Hotel. These included JP McManus, Adare Manor chief executive Colm Hannon, director of business at the venue Anita Higgins, and Bryan Murphy of the Dunraven Arms in Hotel. Other high-profile attendees included former Munster captain Paul O'Connell.

- There was further bad news for the city in the second Irish Business Against Litter report of 2017, with the city centre falling yet further to third from bottom of the table, in doing so becoming the most littered whole city in Ireland. The southside suburb of Galvone once again brought up the rear.

- Planning permission was sought for a major €30m solar farm in West Limerick. The project, near Foynes, Shanagolden and Askeaton, could produce enough power for almost 9,000 homes a year. The construction process could create up to 150 new jobs.

- There was exciting news this month after it emerged the blue-chip car manufacturer Jaguar is to announce a huge investment locally in a move which could bring up to 400 jobs. It's understood company bosses settled on a new 50,000 square foot office development in the Shannon Free Zone.

- One of Limerick's longest established restaurants closed down this month. Sage Cafe closed having served the city in Catherine Street for 11 years. Opened by the Cranberries guitarist Mike Hogan and wife Siobhan, other members of the group were known to have dropped to the premises from time to rime. Meanwhile this month, Dunnes Stores sought planning permission for a new 'family friendly' restaurant at its former store in O'Connell Street. In its application, it names Nandos, Eddie Rockets, Five Guys and KFC as examples of potential brands.

OCTOBER

- The Mid-West regional manager of job creation agency IDA Ireland Niall O'Callaghan joined Shannon Heritage, where he became managing director at the tourism agency.

- The national budget for 2018 - the first since 2010 without Limerick's Michael Noonan at the helm - delivered a range of measures including excise duty on a packet of cigarettes bringing the price of a packet of ten up to €12 for the first time. Elsewhere, there were changes to the Universal Social Charge, a further restoration of the Christmas bonus, and various social service payments going up by €5 a week. The VAT rate on hospitality businesses held firm at 9% as did the sacrosanct 12.5% Corporation tax rate. For business, a loan scheme for SME firms to help mitigate the impact of Brexit was announced. Up to €300m is to be made available to firms.

- One of Limerick's biggest employers, the biopharmaceutical firm Regeneron unveiled plans to create another 300 positions, bringing its total headcount here to 800 staff. The firm, which develops drugs for patients with serious medical complaints, is to expand its footprint to over 500,000 square foot in the former Dell factory at Raheen. The expansion will also give rise to 250 new construction jobs.

NOVEMBER

- TOP local businessman Denis Brosnan, Croom, was one of many voices criticising the Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, which projects that Limerick's population could only grow by 50,000 people in the next 20 years. He said the projected growth is "so conservative, it's off the wall". It comes with Limerick seeing a 43% growth in new jobs in recent years. Other groups which formally objected to the strategy were the Limerick Chamber, Limerick City and County Council and the city's third level institutions. The general feeling is it growth is too focused on Dublin and the eastern region.

- Figures this month revealed Limerick is one of the top performers in business growth, with a 43% increase in jobs announcements over the three months up to November.

- Limerick City and County Council set aside €3m for a conference centre in the heart of the city as part of its local budget. The former Cleeve's Factory at the North Circular Road was suggested as a possible venue for this. The commercial rate was increased in the local budget for next year by 1.75% following one of the closest votes of members of the council.

- Two loan deals worth a total of €170m were signed in as many days to ensure Project Opera can commence. The European Investment Bank is lending Limerick Twenty Thirty €85m, with the Council of Europe Bank matching this.

- The Ballysimon-based building contractor Roadbridge took the title of company of the year at the annual Limerick Chamber business awards, held before 400 people in the Strand Hotel. Former Finance Minister Michael Noonan took home the Limerick Chamber president's award.

DECEMBER

- As Christmas approached, Limerick's pub trade continued to boom. The Commercial Bar opened in the venue formerly known as Daffy’s at Catherine Street. Elsewhere on the street, Jerry Flannery’s secured a licence for a live music venue, while Bourke's is set to reopen in the coming months having been acquired. On the main thoroughfare, 101 O'Connell Street opened at the former Bentley's nightspot.

- Business people gave a lukewarm reaction to Limerick City and County Council's offer of free parking at the former Cleeve's factory at the North Circular Road, with one, Donal O'Connell, who wanted to see free on-street parking retained, saying it's simply too far for shoppers.

- The first impressions for a bold new plan for a rugby museum in the heart of Limerick were unveiled this month. The International Rugby Experience, backed by JP McManus and Paul O'Connell is set to bring thousands of tourists to the city, and will create 100 jobs in its construction as well as many more afterwards.

- West Limerick will head into 2018 with hopes of a renewable energy jobs boost. GKinetic, Newcastle West and Design Pro, Rathkeale, are set to open a training centre for their new water turbine on the Shannon Estuary. Around 40 jobs are set to be created.