Monday 21 August 2017

Can the Midlands become our Northern California?

We have the potential for a powerhouse of innovative start-ups right on Dublin's doorstep, writes Manchan Magan

Future: Wind turbines can replace turf-burning power stations
Future: Wind turbines can replace turf-burning power stations

Manchan Magan

Longford-Westmeath can be to Dublin what Sonoma County in northern California is to San Francisco, an area exceptionally rich in resources and ripe for profitable, sustainable development, right beside a thriving metropolis of tech innovation and international commerce. Brandenburg serves a similar role for Berlin, as does Vancouver Island for Vancouver. These rugged, naturally beautiful areas, known for their ecological commitment, provide the breathing room and recreational space for innovative start-ups and creative entrepreneurs to explore new ventures on the threshold of the chaotic urban melee.

Longford-Westmeath is ideally suited for this role, once it re-orientates itself towards innovation, sustainability and enlightened social services, just as Sonoma, Brandenburg and Vancouver Island have done. Five strands must be implemented simultaneously: 1) locally-owned renewable energy; 2) sustainable horticulture and artisan food; 3) adventure tourism that is heritage-rich; 4) start-up hubs for tech, arts and small enterprises; 5) and a social care system that is enlightened, holistic and community-led.

Where will the funding come from? Primarily, a mix of public/private funding through a new network of regional-based public banks modelled on the German Sparkassen (like credit unions, but for SMEs), whose remit will be to fund local public projects and return the profits to the local area. EU Rural Development Funds and the EU's Life Programme will be a secondary source: both committed to promoting social inclusion and sustainable economic development in rural areas. (Both are currently well-funded as the ECB tries to flood the market with quantitative easing). In addition to this, investment funds such as Silicon Valley Bank have expressed clear commitment to fund innovative, long-term sustainable projects here; ideally combining a mix of visionary entrepreneurship with local government support.

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