An ocean of opportunity if we have the will to seize it
ISME is regularly critical of Government for failing to support SMEs to develop. However, one hugely successful initiative taken by Government was the establishment of IMERC (Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster) in Cork Harbour; a collaboration between Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and UCC, supported by the Irish Naval Service.
Set up in 2010, IMERC was ahead of its time in identifying opportunities in the maritime sector for Ireland. CIT and UCC combined to give the academic and research partnerships, while the Naval Service provided the secret sauce that made things happen. In its six years of existence, IMERC was extraordinarily successful in incubating and developing incredible businesses such as Exceedence, National Space Centre, Solo Energy, Dare Technology, and UAV Evolution at its ‘Entrepreneur Ship’ in Ringaskiddy.
Those brilliant SMEs were the first to complain when IMERC was defunded by UCC and CIT following the publication of a puzzling corporate governance ‘review’ in August this year. Whatever the local reasons behind IMERC’s demise, we can’t afford to dawdle in getting it, or something like it, back in action before the year is out. The size of the prize is simply too great to ignore.
Similarly sized countries to Ireland with a maritime frontier enjoy a contribution to their GDP of 2.5% from marine industry. Despite being an island nation, Ireland’s maritime contribution is a mere 0.8%, roughly €2bn. It could be almost €7bn.
Ireland’s maritime SMEs are some of those most challenged by Brexit, because they have a higher exposure than most to the UK market, and sterling pricing.
Yet Ireland is home to many innovative maritime ‘stars,’ just like the ones in IMERC. We have the capacity to incubate and grow many more, from Arklow all the way to Killybegs.
The opportunity hasn’t gone away, so we can still pull this iron out of the fire. The talent, the intellect and the corporate memory is still there in Cork. So is the Naval Service. Unfortunately, however, the opposition hasn’t fallen asleep! Having seen its success, IMERC has spawned a number of imitators around the world, such as the Maritime Alliance in San Diego, the Oceans Advance cluster in St Johns, and next door to us the Plymouth marine cluster in Britain.
The cost of getting IMERC 2.0 off the ground is a tiny decimal of the €350m UCC plans to spend over the next five years; yet the economic payback would be multiples of the investment, and would generate returns over a shorter period. With days to go before Budget 2018, and the ‘fiscal space’ for Minister Donohoe extremely limited, we need to focus on Cost/Benefit like we’ve never done before.
Commenting on this ISME CEO, Neil McDonnell said“As an island nation, the potential for the maritime sector in Ireland is the envy of most European countries. Our geography gives us a unique opportunity to cultivate it. If exploited intelligently and effectively, the maritime sector could contribute significantly to our GDP, as well as yielding thousands of high-calibre, high-value added, high-paying jobs all around our coast.”
“With Brexit almost upon us, we must maximise the potential of the marine. The only thing we ask of our Government is the political will and determination to get it done. ”