Saturday 22 July 2017

'Waterford has struggled to find the right industry to be associated with'

Ronan Mulligan in Waterford with staff members at one of his 17 pharmacies and retail outlets
Ronan Mulligan in Waterford with staff members at one of his 17 pharmacies and retail outlets
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Waterford, the lynchpin of the south-east economy, is looking forward to a bright new future as it recovers from past setbacks.

Businessman Ronan Mulligan, who employs more than 160 staff across 17 pharmacy and retail outlets in the south-east, admitted that the high regional unemployment rate is understandable for a number of historic factors.

The south-east had Ireland's highest unemployment rate at 19.2pc in 2011 - and, while it has dropped substantially in line with Ireland's economic recovery, it remains the highest in the country at 9.4pc. Put in context, its unemployment rate is 65pc higher than across the nearby south-west region anchored by Cork (5.7pc).

"But I think the future is now very bright for Waterford for a number of reasons," he said. "The city has struggled over the years with its economic identity and precisely the kind of industries it should be associated with. That is particularly true given the manufacturing industries on which Waterford had depended for so long."

For many, the Waterford Crystal crisis underlined the problems - both economic and confidence-related - which the city and region struggled with.

"There were issues in retail as well - Waterford had a number of large-scale retail projects which, due to the economic crisis, never happened. So the city had a problem attracting the kind of big name high street stores that Dublin, Cork and Limerick take for granted.

"Retail never delivered the numbers of jobs it was capable of here."

Likewise, despite its enormous tourist potential, Waterford attracts roughly one-quarter the number of visitors enjoyed annually by Galway.

The city struggled to match the buzzing café culture of Dublin, Cork and Galway despite its vibrant local arts scene.

Now, Ireland's oldest city is hoping the very attraction that lured in the Vikings 1,000 years ago will copper-fasten its future.

Waterford's quays will be the centrepiece of an ambitious €300m tourism development backed by Saudi Arabian investors.

Plans are also under way to revitalise parts of the historic city centre around Michael Street with the aim of mirroring the success of its Viking Quarter initiative by Reginald's Tower.

A further campaign is being waged to have Waterford Institute of Technology upgraded to a specialist technology university.

"I think that is very important because it would serve as a confidence boost for the city and the entire region," Mr Mulligan said.

"Everyone knows how a university can act as a major economic driver and help generate local investment, entrepreneurship and job creation," said Mr Mulligan.

Irish Independent

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