Interview: Conor Healy, Cork Chamber Of Commerce

16 Jun 2017 | 03.26 pm

Interview: Conor Healy, Cork Chamber Of Commerce

The business organisation has had an active year campaigning for change

16 Jun 2017 | 03.26 pm

With Cork’s urbanisation proceeding apace, Conor Healy, chief executive of Cork Chamber, believes that urban planning and providing reasonably priced living accommodation will figure among the city’s biggest challenges


What notable developments has Cork Chamber overseen for its business community in the last year?

Focus on the city centre: Cork Chamber are members of CORE which focuses on improving Cork’s retail and leisure offering and bringing more people into the city centre. As part of this group, Cork Chamber has worked on initiatives such as Cork’s Purple Flag Award, the rebranding/rejuvenation of McCurtain Street to the Victorian Quarter, and improving the attractiveness of the city as a place to work, visit, consume and live.

M20: Together with our colleagues in Limerick Chamber, we have commissioned an independent socio-economic report into the need for a motorway connecting Cork and Limerick. This report has been assisted by a RED C Research survey of chamber members’ attitudes towards the existing N20 and the M20 in both Cork, Limerick, Ennis, Mallow and Charleville. The findings of the report and survey is due to be published in the coming month. The two chambers aim for funding for the M20 allocated in the forthcoming review of the Capital Plan to enable a strong Atlantic Corridor stretching from Cork to Limerick and onto Galway to complement and counterbalance growth in the capital region.

Marketing Cork: Connecting Cork, a Chamber initiative set up in 2016, is a collaboration between local stakeholders and industry leaders that is growing Cork’s international profile, updating our global networks with news from the business community in Cork, and highlighting the factors that make it a top-class location for business and investment.

Campaigning for infrastructure bottlenecks to be addressed: In response to feedback from our members, Cork Chamber has campaigned extensively for funding to be allocated towards addressing key infrastructure challenges in the Capital Plan. We are pleased that the M28 Cork-Ringaskiddy road as well as the Dunkettle Interchange upgrade are among the projects prioritised by government.

Supporting tourism: The Chamber continues to work closely with Cork Airport to promote new routes. In 2016, we collaborated on a campaigned to get approval from the US for Norwegian to begin new flights from Cork to Boston. Our new connectivity to the US will be instrumental in increasing the annual number of visitors to the county by 500,000 by 2020.

Funding for flood protection: After years of campaigning and a delay in funding, the Office of Public Works has announced a €140m investment which will protect city centre homes and businesses from future flood damage, as well as restore our historic quay walls, and see new footpaths and boardwalks installed.

Transport and Mobility Forum: Cork Chamber is actively working with the Cork Transport and Mobility Forum to promote sustainable modes of transport. We want to promote alternative access modes as well as the future permeability of the city centre to meet the needs of future and current increases in the workforce.

Energy Cork: Cork Chamber is actively engaged on a project to achieve National Transport Authority backing for the adoption of compressed natural gas for the bus transport network. This project is ongoing, with market consultation b the NTA in Q3 2017 and buses expected to be on the road in 2018.

What has been the biggest challenge to doing business in Cork that you have heard from your members in the last year? Have any new challenges raised their heads?

The growing demand for businesses and people to be located in the heart of the city with easy access to Cork’s cultural and social scene brings new challenges. Although great for city centre footfall and the buzz that comes as a result, urbanisation trends also create new challenges in relation to traffic management, public services, and the availability of central office and residential accommodation at affordable prices.

A consequence of our changing cityscape is a growing need for increased investment in public transport to assist growing economic activity, more incentives for people to change their mode of transport, and better urban planning to facilitate Cork as a living city. Over the coming year and beyond we will advocate for new investment to see our city transform itself into a world-class, sustainable, high-density and smart second city fit for welcoming even more workers, families, and businesses.

In the last year, the uncertainty created by Brexit has also risen to be considered the number one threat to business growth. Additionally, housing and especially rental accommodation remains a challenge for every business in every sector.

What’s the situation on the ground regarding accommodation for Cork’s growing labour force? Is lack of housing supply still a genuine impediment to inward economic growth in the county?

Like any city, cost and availability of housing is a challenge in Cork. From a business perspective, the biggest issue is the rental sector.  We are engaging with government to highlight initiatives required to ensure that the cost of build of apartment blocks translates into rental costs affordable for employees on average wages. We also need to make better use of space and smarter planning in the city centre to make rental an attractive option for people of all ages and backgrounds, and to ensure that our cities transform into living cities to avoid further build-up of suburbs and reduce car dependency in the future.

In addition to being an issue of social concern, we must also get our housing supply for economic reasons so we avoid housing inflation levels impacting on wage expectations, businesses’ ability to attract and retain talent, as well as the future expansion plans of businesses.

What do you think will be the big growth sector for employment in Cork over the next year or so – are there new sectors coming to the fore?

Apart from Cork’s established strengths in biopharma, agri and ICT, we have seen an influx of new data companies specialising in cybersecurity. With our strong skills in tech and the growing demand for cybersecurity globally, we expect this sector to expand further in the short term.

In parallel, Cork is home to a growing international financial services hub with excellent potential to grow. The Chamber will work to highlight Cork’s competitive advantage over other city regions and the many opportunities that exists here for IFS companies to establish or expand an EU presence and benefit from cluster-led growth.

We are lucky to benefit from having access to world class ICT infrastructure as well as an excellent pool of graduates from CIT, UCC and Tyndall every year. In addition, Cork University Business School is set to open, with plans to develop a 200,000 sq ft building in the city centre. Our existing Tier 1 data connectivity providing the lowest latency to the US, with an additional cable to France and mainland Europe pending, will be important in a post-Brexit world to facilitate continued employment growth.

You recently elected a new chamber president. Will Bill O’Connell bring a new strategic direction to the Chamber?

Having worked 28 years at EMC, his latest role being VP of global logistics, our new president Bill O’Connell brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the Chamber.  Bill has a clear appreciation and understanding of the need for remaining competitive and avoiding repeating past public spending mistakes as key determining factors of Ireland’s future success in an increasingly competitive and often uncertain national and international marketplace.

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