A commentary by Waterford Chamber
“We need everyone in business to be shouting these figures from the rooftops. The opportunity is there, we now need to grasp it.”
AS the largest urban centre in the South East, Waterford has been designated a Regional City of Scale and an Important Driver of National Growth by the National Planning Framework (NPF).
The €37 billion economy of the Waterford City Region has the potential to add over 1,000 new jobs every year. In order to accommodate growth, the city has been making significant investments in its infrastructure and economy.
According to a recent report commissioned by Waterford Chamber, Waterford City & County Council and SETU, which has been developed by RIKON, Waterford has an urban population of over 60,000 and a population of 635,000 within a 60-minute drive.
The report offers key economic data relating to Waterford City and County, and the broader region and sets out to illustrate Waterford City’s current economic position and future trajectory in terms of growth, investment and development; economically, culturally, and ecologically.
According to Gerald Hurley, CEO of Waterford Chamber: “The Waterford City Region 2040 plan is built around investment and regeneration in key locations aimed at reshaping the region and driving economic growth.
“This report goes to the heart of that and showcases Waterford as a city of opportunity. In terms of industry, there are 26,625 companies operating in the Waterford City Region within knowledge intensive sectors and industry 4.0 driving consistent economic growth. Established supply chains ensure companies can work across many sectors and gain access to valuable resources.”
High Value Sectors
Manufacturing, Engineering & Industrial Technologies has long been a cornerstone of the Waterford City regional economy, employing over 31,000 people and helping Waterford City Region become the economic power that it is today. Manufacturing and engineering matters to Waterford and remains a vital element of the region’s economic health.
Said Mr Hurley: “The region is a place where employers can draw on its distinctive capability of having a deep pool of multi-disciplinary and highly skilled labour force, of which 20,000 people have third level qualifications in manufacturing and engineering and with a strong pipeline of over 3,000 students in third level related programmes.
“In terms of life sciences, the region has an internationally renowned reputation and is home to one of the largest national clusters of pharmaceutical and medical device companies in the country. The sector supports over 10,000 employees and benefits from a strong talent pool of over 2,500+ students currently studying natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, and a further 4,300+ studying health and welfare.
“In addition, the region has one of the most vibrant digital clusters in the country and the sector continues to build on its tech history, driving employment and innovation in the city. The sector supports over 6,000 employees and benefits from a strong talent pool of over 1,500 students in higher education.
“What’s clear here is SETU is an integral part of driving economic growth and the talent pool. We have ambitions for a lot more investment and opportunities abound.”
The report highlights that by 2040, it is projected that 41% of new jobs being created will be in high value-added sectors in High-Tech Manufacturing, Professional & Scientific and ITC sectors. Approximately 26% of the South East workforce will be employed in ICT, scientific and professional services, with 19% in high-tech manufacturing and industrial roles.
Waterford Chamber Chief Executive, Gerald Hurley.
A University City
The university sector is worth in excess of €9bn to the Irish economy – the average student spend is €1,170 per month throughout their education, with a premium of up to 38-43% on their earning power thereafter. With multiple campuses across the South-East, SETU will provide a range of growth opportunities for Waterford, Carlow, and the region in its entirety, through an increasingly talented workforce, a research and innovation ethos, and the reversal of historic flight of human capital from the region. The rising student population will increase monthly spend in Waterford (€12.2m) to, in the region of, €14.4m to €17.3m, depending on the footprint of the expansion in the city.
“We understand that retailers globally are under increased pressure but we know from a feasibility study we commissioned with EY, which is about to be published, that the opportunity to create a vibrant city centre is within our grasp,” explains Mr Hurley.
The EY feasibility study, Waterford: A University City – The opportunity to create a vibrant city centre, which was commissioned by Waterford Chamber, was designed to identify opportunities within the city centre, which will attract investors and create a vibrant city centre with added footfall, reverse the retail leakage and develop a city in line with the ambitions set out in Project Ireland 2040.
The report identifies four areas for regeneration where a student presence has the potential to increase footfall and commercial activity and attract more retail and service providers.
“Waterford’s retail expenditure in existing stores at €726m with a current Retail Leakage opportunity of €614mn. By 2040, the retail spend opportunity in the Waterford City Region will be €1.49bn which is driven by a combination of the current retail leakage opportunity (€614m), rising annual tourism spending (€107m by 2040) and driven by a rising population with higher disposable incomes (€675m).
“The total expected 2040 annual retail spend for Waterford City arrives at €2.2bn which incorporates €1.49bn retail spend opportunity in addition to the current retail spend of €726m in the city. We need everyone in business to be shouting these figures from the rooftops. The opportunity is there, we now need to grasp it.”
As a strong alternative to Dublin, Waterford and the wider region presents a strong case. Labour costs are sustainable in the Waterford City Region and are considerably lower than the capital, representing cost savings to employers.
Wage rates in Waterford have converged with Galway but are still below those of Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. They are sustainable and represent significant cost savings to employers – 30% cost savings per employee for business located in the Waterford City Region compared to Dublin. Companies will save at least one third of each staff member’s costs by locating just one to two hours away.
In addition, the exceptionally low rates of staff turnover means that staffing and recruitment costs are kept extremely competitive when compared to other locations, which is appealing to potential employers.
Waterford is also a well-connected city. Investment in high quality infrastructure, such as Waterford Airport, Port of Waterford, motorways and broadband adds to the productive potential of the economy, whilst also supporting jobs and improving the quality of life for all residents.
The region is heavily investing in creative and digital office spaces, providing the fastest available speeds and secure data exchange, allowing businesses to attract and service clients successfully on a global scale from the South East of the country. In fact, Waterford has faster average broadband speeds than anywhere outside of Dublin.
For prospective employees, rental prices in Waterford City are significantly lower (40%) than Dublin and considerably lower than the other city gateways. Moreover, house prices are 45% lower than Dublin and there is a wide range of commercial property options, as well as design and build spaces available in Waterford, while childcare in Waterford is 50% lower than in Dublin.
Continued growth in GVA per capita within the region will be driven by growth in employment in high value sectors such as Information, Communications & Technology and High-Tech Manufacturing & Engineering, Life Sciences, Financial and International Business Services. These high GVA per capita sectors have experienced significant employment growth rates over the last decade, with a 180% increase in ICT employment and 50% increase in High-Tech Manufacturing. These high added value sectors will continue to drive employment growth in the Waterford City Region and are expected to constitute 42% of private-sector employment by 2040.
Waterford City Region took second place among European Cities, and the South East of Ireland topped the small Regions of the Future 2022/2023 for FDI strategy in the respective population category. The Waterford City Region is home to 76 multinational companies employing in excess of 15,500 people. Nationally employment in FDI companies reached record levels in 2021, up 7% on 2020, with the Waterford region growing by 8%.
“Overall the picture for Waterford and the region looks positive but it will take hard work and determination. Collaboration is key and by working together, the future is certainly exciting,” concluded Mr Hurley.