A computer generated impression of the Inishowen Digital Innovation Hub the new
Construction work on the Inishowen Digital Innovation Hub could start shortly following the approval of an extra €500,000 for it from Donegal County Council this week.
This brings its total contribution from €1.4m to €1.9m.
The hub has been hailed as an extremely relevant, timely and far-sighted economic development council initiative at a time when Covid-19 and Brexit are combining to create both opportunities and threats to job prospects.
The main aim of the project is to refurbish and expand the Buncrana Town Council office to provide a focus for high quality job creation in Inishowen.
It will provide space for up to 70 high tech workers and multiple companies and has a goal of creating 56 new technology jobs after three full years of operations and up to 170 after five years.
It has been described as providing a flexible, future-orientated innovation space to enable the county to complement inward investment by nurturing its own local start-up and entrepreneurs, including attracting the Inishowen diaspora from Ireland's cities and from abroad and to rapidly respond to the Government's Remote Working Strategy to invest in remote work hubs.
Its enterprise programme, based on bringing the full range of the State's services to Inishowen, will focus on inward investment, stimulating the creation of private sector enterprise zones, encouragement of the creation of home-grown start-ups and encouraging the introduction of new research and technologies into the peninsula's existing companies.
The council's new chief executive, John G. McLaughlin updated councillors at Monday's online council meeting following a video presentation of the project site and told them of the request for the council to increase its co-funding investment.
He explained that the tender price received was higher than anticipated. This was mainly attributed to Covid-19, Brexit and the general increase in construction costs since 2018 when the project was initiated.
In addition, the anticipated income for 2021-2022 would not now be realised mainly due to Covid delays and changed working patterns of prospective occupants in the short-term.
He explained the overall position was that Enterprise Ireland had provided a €1.1m grant in 2018 to cover part of the construction works, employment of an Innovation Manager for three years and deliver of a full programme of work.
He added in July 2019 the council committed to providing €1.4m co-funding but revealed that the construction tender price is €226,147 higher than expected so allowing for other cost incrreases, delays in receiving income from occupants and a contingency amount of €150,000m a further co-funding amount of €500,000 was required from the council.
He added the project is ready to be awarded after the co-funding is secured and it would be expected that construction work could start within the next two months subject to Covid-19 restrictions being eased.
Councillors were also told that since the Innovation Manager was appointed in September 2019, the project has already had a positive impact on Inishowen's economic development prospects.
They were told it has provided, for the very first time, a strong statutory partnership dedicated to developing business and job opportunities in Inishowen. The partners include Donegal County Council; Enterprise Ireland; LYIT/CoLab; Ernact; Inishowen Development Company; Ulster University; Buncrana Chamber; Local Enterprise Office; IDA; ETB and the private sector.
Monday's meeting heard 100 plus existing companies have already been assisted in areas such as training, innocation vouchers, awareness of support and Covid webinars as over 200 businesses/employees have registered for hub events.
The hub has also worked in close partnership with ETB and Inishowen Partnership to develop, promote and deliver new advanced digital training courses for business in Inishowen, including Inishowen Innovation Network.
Councillors also learned that unique branding, to promote Inishowen as a location for tech investment and jobs has also been developed.
Thr project also incorprorates a modern front-of-house service centre for housing council staff to provide a range of services to Inishowen citizens. This investment also provides the peninsula with a flexibly designed, enhanced and high quality building whose meeting facilities, events and shared services will be available for civic use in Inishowen.
It also contains an option to revert to other council use after 15 years.
Mr McLaughlin added his attitude was to do a job like this once and do it right.
Members unanimously agreed to the request for the extra €500,000 which was proposed by Cllr Jack Murray and seconded by Cllr Martin McDermott.
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