21 August 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Two significant developments at opposing ends of the economic activity spectrum in our county this week certainly emanate that good news feel that newspapers and those who labour on them much prefer, despite popular perceptions otherwise, to convey to their readership.

Both the turning of the sod by global forklift manufacture leaders Combilift on their new €40 million factory development at Tullyherim, and the launch by Minister Heather Humphreys of the craft and artisan food retail outlet operating during the peak tourism weeks ahead from the Castle Leslie Gate Lodge in Glaslough, are high on feel good factor – and while that is not the most significant element of their importance, it does bear upon both our own and others’ perception of our county in a way that has more than insubstantial value.

The Combilift project promises 400 new jobs – half during its construction phase and half during its early years of productivity. For a county that has seen very significant sources of employment vanish in the past three decades and others enfeebled by adverse market outcomes, and which has never attracted supplementing support from the State agencies charged with attracting and locating new industry to the country, this is a powerful restorative of confidence as well as a major economic uplift.

Combilift are an exemplar of the entrepreneurial endeavour Monaghan people take pride in as one of the identifiers of our character – and the company’s decision to locate the expansion of their operations on home soil, despite the obvious lure that must have attached to more populated and market-contingent locations, validates how we have continued to support and nurture the pathfinding business instinct that has fecundly flowered in our midst.

The availability of adequate industrial-zoned land close to Monaghan Town and a major national road route, which is sufficient to accommodate not just the 46,000 square metre development underway but also future growth, testifies to the past foresight of our local authority officials and elected members – and the faith in that vision demonstrated by their successors, who remained loyal to it despite the intensive but short-sighted clamour that arose in the boom years for such land to be turned to housing development.

Another significant factor in the Combilift decision was undoubtedly the development of the new Monaghan Institute as part of the major Knockaconny Education Campus initiative put in place by the former Co Monaghan Vocational Education Committee and now overseen by its Cavan Monaghan Education and Training Board successor.

The acquisition by the Institute of the delivery of two important traineeship and apprenticeship programmes tailored to the evolving employment needs of the forklift business not only provides assurances that its human resources requirements will be met in the future, but ensures that young local school-leavers will have the opportunity to equip themselves with the skill-sets necessary to compete for that employment.

The translation of the alliance between industry and education provider into local jobs for local people is so lucid in the Combilift/Monaghan Institute example that other employment providers in our county and region surely cannot fail to make the connect – and realise that we now have on our doorstep a further education facility of enormous potential to tailor itself to fuelling economic growth and development in Co Monaghan in response to interactions from the surrounding industrial and service sectors.

The Combilift success story to date, and the new jobs that will arise from its expansion, certainly deserve to wear the “Made in Monaghan” label.

That badge is also worn with explicit pride in the title of the new craft and artisan food ‘pop-up shop’ initiative that is making its home during August and September in the striking Gate Lodge building by the entrance to Glaslough’s Castle Leslie estate.

As Monaghan Co Council Director of Services Adge King remarked when the project received its formal launch last Thursday, this pilot scheme, which the local authority is co-ordinating with the Monaghan Local Enterprise Office, seeks to formulate some address of two stubborn obstacles to economic development in our county: the preponderance of vacant premises, and the difficulty small-scale producers encounter in finding a remunerative “shop window” for their output.

In this instance, a significant heritage structure shorn by time of its original function has been placed, thanks to the enthusiastic co-operation of the Leslie family, at the disposal of a temporary collective of craftspeople and food artisans to operate as a retail outlet during the months when visitor numbers to the picturesque Glaslough village and its Leslie estate are traditionally at their highest.

There was abundant evidence on launch day that the experiment is working well: the beautiful vernacular Gothic building itself is a potent visitor lure, and the produce to be found within its carefully unaltered interior is an impressively representative cross-section of the richness of our county’s craft and food “cottage industries”; participants in the project are receiving experience in retail and marketing practicalities that may prove of more enriching long-term value to their businesses than the short-term sales generated, and the initiative has obvious endorsement and support from the community in which it is located.

The specific advantages that the “Made in Monaghan” outlet enjoys in its Glaslough location are not to be found everywhere, but the precepts of the concept are eminently transferable, and there was merit in the advocacy by Monaghan Co Council Cathaoirleach Noel Keelan on Thursday that the idea be implemented in other locations in the county, particularly our less economically active towns.

The concept is one means by which important historical structures in our county which no longer fulfil an active function could be reanimated – some of our market house and courthouse buildings that have fallen to disuse and in some cases shameful disrepair could be imbued with a new lease of life if they were turned to tasteful retail purpose for at least a portion of the year.

With some adaptation, there is potential for the idea to be transferred to our many vacant commercial properties – though owner “buy-in” might not always be so readily obtained, and issues arising from rates obligations and the necessity to preserve fairness of competition require to be felicitously considered, the “Made in Monaghan” experiment is certainly one worth evaluating and repeating, not least for the manner in which it communicates the quality of what our micro-industry sector is producing.

As participant Grace Bannon remarked: “We have been very quiet in blowing our own trumpet. We have perhaps been a little backward in coming forward in promoting our food and craft production, unlike some other counties, but perhaps that is going to change.”

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