Paul Hayes: 'Think global, live local: rural Ireland offers bright future to our workforce'

The big question is what technology will help rural areas retain talent who value quality of life?
The big question is what technology will help rural areas retain talent who value quality of life?

Paul Hayes

Living and working in Dublin brings many problems, from housing to congestion, but these issues of accelerated growth don't resonate in rural areas. The towns and communities of rural Ireland face the opposite problem - of convincing people that they are great places to live that deserve investment.

We all want to live in thriving communities that we can contribute to and feel a part of.

Rural Ireland is no different.

Here, these communities come in all shapes and sizes that punch above their weight in different ways. Just look to Mullinalaghta and Dalkey now as the new homes of football and hurling, respectively.

On a national level, Dublin is a very strong second-tier-sized city which recently came top of a global survey for business friendliness.

But there is also a bright future outside the big smoke.

In recent years we've seen a rise in remote working and digital nomads: the best indicators of a civilised expansion of a workforce beyond the traditional hubs.

With a great surrounding hinterland full of grassy goodness, a number of indigenous entrepreneurs have set up in rural locations over the years, putting up with poor broadband for a better quality of life. Look at Fexco in Killorglin or, further back, GPA in Shannon, to see how it can be done. These were the exceptions rather than the rule. But now, ever-improving tech means rural communities will become even more popular in the years to come.

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We never get the future we are promised, but that doesn't stop us from speculating wildly. We were promised jet-packs in every decade since the 1960s, but instead all we got was the sum of all human knowledge in our pockets, always-on connectivity to the world and tiny little scooters for adults.

So the big question is: what technology will help rural areas retain talent who value quality of life? Self-driving cars are already here, just not legislated for yet.

The best technology is in tractors for precise tillaging, so that should solve the problem of getting to and from the pub in the next 10 years. In the meantime, targeted buses shouldn't be beyond our collective capability.

A lot of social tech will make its debut on the farm. Drones will be vital for good crop and livestock management long before they start delivering our packages and food (keep an eye out for Irish startup Batco on that front).

In fact, rural Ireland may benefit from this first as there are likely to be safety restrictions across most cities.

From early Irish pioneers like Cainthus, recognising cows and now people, to Moocall letting you know when the calf is ready to be born, we are already seeing tech bleed into the mainstream from the farm.

You can also see a huge rise in wellbeing in local communities through increased participation in yoga, training and mindfulness, spurred on by apps like Calm and Headspace. None of these are a replacement for face-to-face community, but they can be a good support.

Access to healthcare has always been an issue in the country and the city, but there is a growing realisation that acute and complex services need to be accessed in the nearest centre of excellence, while other issues can be treated remotely with advances in technology. Silvercloud Health is the world's leading mental health platform provider and built in Dublin, while VideoDoc, also an Irish company, provides world class online GP services.

Retail is changing radically both in the city and country. Services like coffee and speciality/local food will thrive, but online shopping will render up to 30pc of retail space obsolete. Ideas beyond services and increased levels of specialisation are needed to fill the gap.

Swap shops and charity shops are thriving and that isn't a bad thing environmentally.

Likewise, the pub as we know it will only survive if it evolves to meet the needs of a changing populace. A mixture of changing attitudes to health and drink driving means a greater emphasis on non-alcoholic drinks, live entertainment and pairing with food.

Alongside enhanced experience, tourism and retail technology will be another engine of growth, fuelled by our language skills and access to European based data.

Change won't be easy: carbon taxes on agriculture and industrial output will make the water charges look like a walk in the park - just look at France.

But we can start by catering to the different people who want different lifestyles within Ireland, not just those in the cities.

And if we want all regions to benefit, we have to make serious inroads on the provision of broadband.

  • Paul Hayes is the founder of BeachHut, a strategic communications consultancy that works with leading technology companies throughout Europe

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