4 May 2018 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Perhaps the most impressive feature of last Thursday’sofficial opening by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD of the new global headquarters and manufacturing facility of Monaghan’s Combilift was the unadulterated pride and pleasure that people in the local area and the county at large derived from the occasion. The scale of the Combilift expansion – a 46,500 square metre factory complex set in a 100-acre site primed to meet future development needs – is quite awe-inspiring, and the modernity and ergonomic efficiency of its design, administrative and production facets is surely on the very cutting edge of world industrial standards. All this impresses – but it doesn’t necessarily make people smile and beam with pride and pleasure as readily as was evident in our circulation area in the build-up to Combilift’s big day last Thursday.

The mood music was acutely heard and astutely interpreted by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and local TD Heather Humphreys when she spoke at the official opening. Illuminated with the light of pride herself, Minister Humphreys partially explained the feeling with her heartfelt declaration: “In Monaghan, we like to back our own!” As all areas do, we take delight when local people, businesses and communities enjoy success. This is good pride: warm human feeling and positive energy and example for emulation. But the spontaneity of the immense goodwill Combilift enjoys in the place it calls home is due to something more than that. Ultimately, it is reciprocation for the pride, faith and belief that the company have itself shown in Monaghan and in Monaghan people as it has swiftly scaled the ladder of enterprise success to stand as a global leader in its manufacturing field.

In business, as in other life spheres, what you sow is ofttimes what you reap. Combilift may indeed have set out with “three employees, a brilliant concept and the ambition to make it a reality”, in the words of Taoiseach Varadkar, but from the outset of their vision founders Robert Moffett and Martin McVicar brought something else to the table: a belief in themselves as Co Monaghan people that they could establish and command a place on the global enterprise stage, and a belief in their fellow Monaghan men and women to help make that happen.

As Combilift has evolved, expanded and developed, that faith in the local has never waned – and that was what was being repaid through the warmth of feeling evident in our county last Thursday when they unveiled what was described as one of the largest manufacturing operations under one roof in the Republic of Ireland. But there is not just a mutual exchange of pride, faith and affection going on here – something far more important is at work.

Combilift are demonstrating, as some of our county’s other muscular competitors in global marketplaces have done, that trust in the talent, imagination and capacity for hard work local people possess can take a business all the way to the top. It is a message that sometimes gets lost in the translation of the self-reliant spirit that has come to denote economic endeavour in our county. We all know how it goes by now – Co Monaghan has had to rely on its own resources because the IDA and the Government do not direct inward investment our way. This attitude has become a badge of pride, but it has also on occasions been a chip on our shoulder. Sometimes successful Co Monaghan companies in the same sphere of operation, such as the furniture and meat processing industries, have devoted fearsome amounts of energy to competing intensively with each other when a pooling of knowledge and resources might have provided the wider sector with the resilience to weather globalisation pressures that began to render their products and methods of production uncompetitive.

Combilift and companies like it esteem the local – but not the parochial. Their vision is an informed and universal one, even if they draw upon native resources to realise the dream. The secret of outstanding business success is always elusive, but the Taoiseach was certainly in the right ballpark with his catchy mantra for Combilift’s achievements: “Start small. Do well. Go global.” It is not a bad affirmation for new Co Monaghan start-ups and small and medium enterprises with a thirst to expand to follow. But not all will be as fortunate as Combilift to hatch an idea with limitless potential and follow the trajectory of its star to lead them on to fortune, to borrow from Shakespeare’s Brutus and his musings about the “tide in the affairs of men”.

Those desirous of emulating Combilift as they stake out a place for themselves in our county’s enterprise landscape will need help. Not all of them will be in the same position as Martin McVicar and Robert Moffett to devote 7% of annual turnover to the vital investment priority of research and development. They could follow Combilift’s lead and consider how cultivating a training partnership with the Education and Training Board and Monaghan Institute could help them fine-tune their workforce requirements and provide local jobs to suitably trained local people. And they could also, individually and collectively and through the representative offices of their local and national elected people, petition Minister Humphreys to consider an initiative that would channel some of the considerable research and development funding that has become available in this country in recent times into the regions.

Major third level institutions and large-scale companies, both with proven expertise in the research field, have long swallowed up the lion’s share of State support for R & D activity that has become vital to business growth and expansion. This money rarely comes to the regions, as they are perceived as not having the institutional infrastructure which could gainfully exploit it. But such infrastructure could certainly be established in Co Monaghan or in partnership with our neighbouring county of Cavan – the Education and Training Board which serves both counties would relish getting its teeth into such a project, and our flagship companies would surely support and possibly even partially subvent a regional Research and Development Institute in their midst.

Having such a facility accessible to our SME sector would be a major contribution to helping other potential Combilifts among their number to flourish to the full potential of growth. Minister Humphreys spoke ambitiously at last Thursday’s event of attempting to reverse the trend of inward noninvestment in Co Monaghan, although she did (wisely) caution that such a sea-change would take time to bring about. Perhaps her considerable energies would be better spent on fostering a Co Monaghan-based research and development facility that would help others to actuate the Combilift code of start small, do well, go global.

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