Double whammy for Athlone ventures in Saudi trade mission

AIT and Woodfit impress Saudi investors

There was a double triumph for Athlone this week, as both Athlone Institute of Technology and local company Woodfit were successful in securing business deals during the Enterprise Ireland trade mission to Saudi Arabia.

AIT succeeded in having its Master’s degree programmes approved under the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme in Saudi Arabia, while Athlone-based company Woodfit Ltd secured a contract of €1.5million as part of the construction of Princess Noura University in Saudi Arabia.

Both agreements were secured during the Enterprise Ireland trade mission to Saudi Arabia, led by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keeffe. A total of 45 Irish companies took part in the week-long mission aimed at landing lucrative contracts and creating jobs.

The AIT deal, announced on Wednesday this week, will see postgraduate students from Saudi studying at AIT. Representatives from the college and Minister O’Keeffe met with the governor of Technical Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC ), Dr Ali Nasser Al Ghafis, in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Eighteen Saudi students will commence studies in Athlone in January 2011, where they will initially undertake English language classes. President of AIT, Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, said that the agreement was “a reflection of the positive relations which AIT enjoys with international education partners”.

“Our campus offers a genuine multicultural educational experience and the Saudi students add considerably to that. This new agreement highlights the high regard in which AIT’s Master’s degrees are held internationally,” he said.

Minister O’Keeffe said the agreement will draw hundreds more Saudi students to Ireland. “Significantly, too, Saudi students could become new ambassadors for Ireland and choose the country for key investments originating in the Middle East-North Africa region, which is our fastest-growing emerging market,” he added.

Meanwhile the €1.5 million contract to be undertaken by Woodfit will form part of the largest construction project in the world, with 125,000 people working daily on the site at Princess Noura University in Saudi Arabia.

Woodfit, a second generation family company employing 28 people in Athlone, is a specialist joinery company. The company manufactures specialist acoustic and non-acoustic timber panelling.

Woodfit first visited Saudi Arabia in November 2009 and following on introductions organised by Enterprise Ireland, initiated a successful joint venture with Saudi company Al Khalidia Hallstage.

General manager of Woodfit Ltd, Jason Larkin, said the company was extremely proud of the progress that has been made to date in the Saudi Arabian market.

“This progress was achieved with strong support from Enterprise Ireland ...We are now involved in many future projects and have already delivered on live projects such as the Ministry of Higher Education and King Abdullah Aziz University.”

Minister O’Keeffe described the deal as “a significant contract win for an ambitious outward-focused Irish firm”, while CEO of Enterprise Ireland, Frank Ryan, added: “It is a testament to all involved that a small Irish company can box above their weight and achieve success in such a vibrant and exciting market.”

Irish firms landed deals worth over €36 million during this week’s trade mission to the Middle East.

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