NACEC Launches its New Strategic Plan

An ambitious blueprint to transform the role of regional enterprise centres

NACEC has launched its new strategic plan 2019-2021, which aims to transform the association from one that is largely about the provision of enterprise space to embracing innovation, talent and learning.

The blueprint for the next three years marks the culmination of a transformational year for NACEC as it seeks to become one of the country’s most powerful enterprise conduits, contributing to balanced regional economic development.

The Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation, Heather Humphreys, TD, in launching the new strategy, congratulated the organisation on the launch of its new plan, adding that she warmly welcomed the plans to establish nine regional clusters which will provide a networking platform for both established and emerging regional enterprise centres to support employment in the regions.

“This strategy aligns with the Regional Enterprise Plans I launched for the country earlier this year. Working together, we can ensure that our regions are best placed to build on the huge economic progress we have made in recent years,” the minister said.

The chairperson of NACEC, Gary O’Meara, said those who had supported and developed the community and regional enterprise sector in Ireland over the past two decades had put very solid foundations in place.

“Their vision, drive and enthusiasm for community enterprise has facilitated the development of a vibrant network of over 120 enterprise centres, technology and coworking hubs across rural and urban Ireland that is having a very real and positive impact on local and regional economic development and social prosperity,” said Mr O’Meara, who is CEO of Meath Enterprise.

At the core of the new strategy are five strategic goals and a number of accompanying actions, including the rollout of a regional cluster programme that will act as a networking platform, providing peer-to-peer mentoring and support services.

Each region will host an annual regional summit for enterprise centre personnel and tenants to meet, learn and network.

In response to climate change and increasing energy costs, NACEC is developing a three-pronged approach to improving individual enterprise centres’ environmental performance, part of which will be a commitment to a sustainable development goals charter in addition to implementing a climate change programme for enterprise centres and SMEs.

NACEC members will use their prolific training reach to assist small firms experiencing shortages of skilled personnel through skills provision mapping and linking all training programmes offered to a dedicated page on its website.

In terms of digitisation, NACEC members are already to the fore in not only providing next generation broadband connections, but also ICT training. Members will now extend their mentoring offering in the area of business development by focusing on the adoption of digital tools.

New research on smart working suggests that establishing digital hubs in every county could create up to 8,400 new jobs. NACEC is already playing a major role in the rollout of digital hubs around the country, with 29% of members already having one – and more are on the way.

NACEC also believes this is an opportune time to create a vibrant export culture at regional level, despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit. One of the major goals in this respect is exploring and building international alliances.

With some 60% of association members believing Brexit presents more opportunities than threats, plans are also underway to specifically target Brexit relocations from Northern Ireland and the UK through a focused marketing drive.

The final strategic goal is to strengthen NACEC’s organisational sustainability through a series of actions which include the appointment of a CEO or executive director, maximising the use of technology, leadership training for centre managers, a marketing and communications programme and the adoption of quality standards for enterprise centres.

A survey commissioned as part of the new strategy has helped give a clearer picture of where members currently find themselves and where they would like to be within the next two to three years.

For instance, while rental income from tenants remains the income bedrock for enterprise centres, other income streams, such as the provision of training, are growing in importance.

In 2018, members received over 1,204 individual enquiries, an average of 30 per centre. For the first six months of 2019, enquiry levels were up by 15% on the same level in 2018.

Among the issues centre managers are paying most attention to are the reliance on income from a single source, such as rent; rising operational costs and securing development funds for expansion are also key concerns.

Many centres are focused on growth and have been continuously investing in their premises. Some 63% of NACEC members have capital investment or growth plans within the next two years.

The development of digital hubs and co-working spaces is high on the agenda for at least a dozen members while other centres are examining the possibilities of increasing centre size and expanding ICT capacity.

Among the main challenges identified by centre managers are accessing capital funding for expansion projects, both in terms of securing grant aid and match finance, as well as sourcing new space to attract more inward investment.

Read the new NACEC National Strategy 2019-2021