MADELEINE Quirke, is Chief Executive of Wexford Chamber, one of 56 affiliated Chambers operating under the umbrella of Chambers Ireland.
Madeleine has recently been appointed President of South East Chambers, a regional body consisting of Clonmel Chamber, Kilkenny Chamber, Enniscorthy Chamber, New Ross Chamber, Dungarvan Chamber, Gorey Chamber, Carlow Chamber, Waterford Chamber and Wexford Chamber which focuses on the economy of the South East and lists priorities for actions that will increase prosperity within the region.
She believes that Chambers of Commerce are the most effective business lobbying group in Ireland influencing Ministers and government policy.
'Wexford Chamber has a strong lobbying voice nationally through Chambers Ireland, regionally through South East Chambers and locally through our TDs, Local Authorities and our local branch network,' she said.
Chambers of Commerce have been in existence since 1599 when the first chamber was founded in Marseilles in France.
The typical Chamber focused on meeting local politicians, encouraging meetings between politicians and business people, helping businesses with finance and with other aspects of their business. Now 400-plus years later it is hard to find a town that does not have its own Chamber.
'However, we no longer wear pin striped suits, are seated in panelled offices or are tied to historical functions. We are a vibrant part of the local economy always ready to reinvent the wheel in response to the ever changing needs of our members.'
Despite the many challenges faced by retailers, Madeleine stresses that retail vacancies in Wexford are below the national average and that more retail units are currently occupied than at this time last year.
'There is no doubt about the impact that the economic climate together with online shopping, upward only rental agreements and the local environment has had on the traditional high street model but it is important that we as a Chamber and as a community continue to examine how best some of these challenges can be addressed.
'Domestic demand for retail products will continue to decline until consumer confidence returns and there is more disposable income in circulation. We must focus on curbing government spending and discouraging revenue raising measures which increase the cost of doing business - this is simply not sustainable.'
Madeleine explained that the majority of members of Wexford Chamber are small to medium enterprises (SMEs).
'Running a local business is an incredibly difficult endeavour and it is important that the achievements of our SMEs and the challenges they continue to face are recognised. They form the economic backbone of Wexford in terms of their contribution to GDP and opportunities for employment.
'Measures must be taken to drive domestic demand and increase consumer confidence. Much analysis of the economy has been on credit availability but it is becoming increasingly clear that the main problem facing many struggling businesses is a lack of demand. Demand is the key to helping Irish business which will lead to a much needed increase in job creation.
'Further initiatives to support the struggling SME sector also have to be considered. The latest report on the Action Plan for Jobs illustrates the Government's continuing commitment to job creation. Chambers Ireland recently published an Alternative 10 Point Plan which exposes some of the limitations of the Government's own plan from Budget 2013 and this includes initiatives such as a reduced VAT Rate on Housing Repair, Maintenance and Improvements, halving the level of Capital Gains Tax for Entrepreneurs to 16.5% and a targeted rates reduction for businesses in town centres. All of these could increase demand and have a meaningful impact on small businesses which would in turn stimulate job creation.
'In the meantime, our young unemployed need to develop and cultivate their networks with people who may be able to help them secure employment.
'For those who are college graduates, I would advise continuing with studying in order to compliment your existing skills. Identify future growth sectors and position yourself to be able to work in these sectors.
'County Wexford is my home, it is where I work and where I play. There is nowhere that I would rather be and I believe that Wexford has faced its challenges and continues to strive for improvement and for growth.
'Yes, unemployment continues to be a massive problem for us but by supporting the local economy we will empower businesses to retain existing staff and create new jobs. Job creation, job retention and stimulating the local economy are of paramount importance and I know that every Member of Wexford Chamber will agree with this sentiment. Together we can and will make a difference,' Madeleine said.
Wexford Chamber welcomes new members. For further information on what we do and our calendar of events log on to www.wexfordchamber.ie