Could a digital hub in every county generate 9,000 jobs?

As many as 8,840 new jobs and 1,040 new businesses could be generated if a digital hub was to be located in each county of Ireland.

What could be the national impact of digital hubs in every region? A new study by Vodafone and SIRO indicates an enormous economic impact as more workers choose to work remotely.

“This will benefit local economies, the environment and the wellbeing of employees and business owners. It is an unambiguous win-win situation”

The number of digital and co-working hubs is on the increase in Ireland as recent examples including the new Cavan Tech Hub, the Kells Tech Hub and the recently opened Tipperary town Digital Hub. Another example is Hatch Lab in Gorey, Wexford, which has just celebrated two years in operation.

By applying average returns on the experiences of a number of six existing digital hubs around Ireland, the impact of establishing a digital hub in each of the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland could be profound.

The study found that 1,040 new businesses, 5,200 direct and 3,640 new indirect jobs could be created.

Not only that but the financial impact of this could include a €312m economic contribution as €260m in new salaries (gross) are generated.

“Our study clearly shows that the creation of viable smart working opportunities in a hub, homeworking or a hybrid model in Ireland’s regions could prove transformative for people, businesses and local communities,” Regina Moran, director of Enterprise at Vodafone Ireland said.

“The findings, which attest to substantial income generation and improvements in people’s quality of life, offer a viable basis for wider adoption of smart working in Ireland. It also provides proof of concept that smart working and digital hubs can act as a stimulus to addressing the urban and rural socio-economic challenges that exist in Ireland. Gigabit connectivity is fundamental to achieving that.

“In the context of congestion in urban areas; environmental considerations; and the desire for improved quality of life, the potential for future increased economic contribution from hubs that provide high-quality broadband connection is significant. At Vodafone Ireland, we want connectivity to enable new ways of working that advance our rural communities and towns and help solve economic and social challenges in a meaningful way.”

Rise of the regions

The report indicated the rise of co-working and digital hubs has largely been made possible through the increased spread of fibre-based broadband to the regions. Both SIRO and Vodafone’s fibre-based gitabit network currently connects 15 hubs around Ireland.

This rise in connectivity quality is adding impetus to the rise and rise of smart working whereby professionals are choosing to cut down on their commute hours and are factoring in quality of life, environmental impact and cost of living in terms of where they choose to work.

Crucially, the study indicates that Ireland’s economic performance is varied from a regional perspective. While Ireland’s regions are being seen as attractive, more affordable places to live, they have lacked the high value jobs required by citizens to live and work in the area.

“In a world where issues such as climate change, congestion, more balanced regional economic growth and development, and quality of life are becoming increasingly important and topical, the contribution that remote working will make to addressing these problems is very significant,” said economist Jim Power, author of the report. “With proper connectivity, there is no reason why remote working cannot grow in significance. This will benefit local economies, the environment and the wellbeing of employees and business owners. It is an unambiguous win-win situation.”

However, the spread of technology infrastructure like broadband and the emergence of these new co-working hubs could make it possible to address the imbalance.

Not only that but exorbitant rent levels and childcare costs are also pushing young professionals with families outside of cities like Dublin.

The challenge for industry bodies, business owners, policymakers and community representatives, is to invest in the right infrastructure to ensure there is equilibrium between both the small and large economies in Ireland and to support equal migration between urban and rural

“The experience in the six digital hubs analysed for this report clearly demonstrates the positive impact smart working is having on towns and their surrounding areas,” the report’s authors said.

“The data analysed included the number of businesses that are supported in the hubs, the total annual gross and net wages earned by those working in the hubs, the taxes they pay, plus the income generated and indirect employment supported in the local areas as a result of economic activity and spending.

“This income multiplier effect seeks to capture how many times a given euro spent in an economy literally turns-over or otherwise results in other transactions. When an employee in a hub receives income, they spend some of that income in the broader economy, thereby supporting other income and other jobs in the town or region. Every euro earned, percolates down through the economy to generate a significant economic impact.”

The study pointed to Finland’s policy drive to support remote and flexible work practices as a blueprint for what rural Ireland has the potential to become.

“Co-working hubs and home working have the ability to rejuvenate regions by bringing high quality, high-value roles to the region, breathing new life into the local economy.”

Examples cited in the report include:

  • The Mill Enterprise Hub in Drogheda, which is now home to 33 businesses that employ 78 people and contribute €3.75m to the local region;
  • New Work Junction in Kilkenny, which is home to 20 businesses, 35 staff and a €2m economic contribution to the local region;
  • Enterprise House in Carlow, which is home to 22 businesses, employs 70 people and contributes €3.36m to the local economy;
  • HQ in Tralee, which hosts 41 businesses, 153 people, makes a €10.16m local economic contribution and has opened a second premises in Listowel;
  • Creative Spark in Dundalk, which has 39 businesses, 72 workers, and contributes €3.88m to the local economy; and,
  • The Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, which is home to 21 businesses, 54 workers and contributes €4.21m to the local economy.

Main picture: Vodafone director of Enterprise Regina Moran with Room to Improve presenter Dermot Bannon. Image: Andres Poveda

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 1 October, 2019