Just over a year ago, Adrienne Harrington left her high powered job at the Department of the Taoiseach to run the Ludgate Digital Hub in West Cork. And now with 50 people working at the hub, she hasn't looked back once
LUDGATE is well on course to fulfill its commitment to bring 500 jobs to West Cork by the year 2020.
Just two years into its four-year plan, over 100 jobs have already been created directly, at Ireland’s first 1gb rural digital hub, while a further 140 jobs are believed to have been created indirectly, through suppliers and other associated companies.
Ludgate chief executive Adrienne Harrington, who recently marked the end of her first year at the helm of the Skibbereen hub, says the jobs have contributed an annual €13m a year to the local economy.
‘Remember, this is not just about Skibbereen, it is all of West Cork,’ she says, revealing a ‘heat map’ of the region compiled by three local businesses – Spearline, O’Donnell Furniture and Ludgate itself – showing where their employees live.
The map shows that employees are not just based in the immediate Skibbereen environs, but many are also based as far away as Bandon and Ballylickey, and in all locations in between, including Bantry, Clonakilty, Durrus and Union Hall.
‘This has been a great boost for the entire area,’ says Adrienne of the hub which was opened in a blaze of publicity in July 2016.
The state-of-the-art facility, located in the revamped former Field’s bakery (donated by local supermarket owner John Field), is the brainchild of several prominent West Cork businesses people.
The Ludgate steering group, which includes Glen Dimplex chief Sean O’Driscoll, incoming RTE director general Dee Forbes, Google’s Ronan Harris, Fexco’s Brian McCarthy and Vodafone CEO Ann O’Leary to name a few, had a vision of bringing high speed broadband to West Cork and encouraging techie start-ups and established firms to consider locating here.
Now the dream has become a reality, with Vodafone’s joint venture with ESB – Siro – providing the 1 gigabit (1,000 mb) high-speed connection to the hub.
There is also a €500,000 seed capital fund for start-ups, similar to the Dragon’s Den model, but there is no minimum of maximum amount that applicants can seek.
The 24/7 facility boasts state-of-the-art conference rooms, hot desking facilities, and offers long and short term leases for small and medium-sized businesses, with ample parking and a great community atmosphere.
Today there are 50 people working out of the hub, and Adrienne estimates there are another 50 who started there, but have moved on since. ‘We see them as being part of our family,’ says Adrienne. ‘They were born here, and it’s like they have left home, but they are still in the family.’
The two big success stories still located in the hub are online corporate storytellers Stori Creative – which was co-founded by former Ludgate ceo Grainne Dwyer, and Travel Master – an events travel company.
Both have risen from two initial employees to five currently, and Adrienne also references Spearline Risk & Compliance which started life in October 2017 with three people, rising to 12 by last March.
Spearline R&C have since moved off-site as they had outgrown their space in the hub. ‘But we continue the relationship and the mentoring for them,’ says Adrienne.
Ecommerce firm xsellco has gone from four to 10 staff, and is looking to expand further. While based in Dublin, their sales team has relocated to Skibbereen, in a ‘satellite’ division of the HQ.
West Cork has the added advantage of not having succumbed to the housing crisis in the same way as the larger cities.
‘Accommodation, while tightening, is not as difficult to locate as in Dublin or Cork,’ explained Adrienne. ‘But we have a great relationship with local auctioneers and so far, we have had no problems finding anyone a home.
‘And enrolling in local schools is not a problem either, because they are delighted to boost their numbers,’ she pointed out. In fact, Ludgate works closely with schools in the area, especially the local Skibbereen Community School, and is building relevant programmes to encourage more coding opportunities for local students.
‘Overall, it’s about lifestyle,’ admitted the former government data boss, who, herself, moved here for a change of pace.
‘Last year was a busy one for me,’ she admitted. ‘I got engaged, married and bought a house!’
Adrienne is also coming to the end of her term as the first president of Network West Cork – an organisation for local business women which meets and networks regularly – and is affiliated to Network Ireland. It is the fastest growing new club in the country, with 85 members signed up already.
Adrienne adores living by the sea and the freedom that the lack of a commute gives her. ‘I am working the same number of hours, but now I have lots of evenings and weekends to myself, and easier access to everything.’
She has completed a bee-keeping course, and has a veggie-packed polytunnel and rearing chickens to add to her ‘to do’ list.
A life mixing tradition and technology – what could be more balanced?