Westmeath is open for business - new forum proposed

Westmeath is to have a new economic forum starring the best and brightest entrepreneurs the county has to offer.

Pat Beirne, Mergon; Gary Moore, Steripack; and of course, Michael O’Leary, Ryanair have been mooted as potential members of a group that would have a direct line to the county manager and would meet regularly to provide suggestions for how to improve Westmeath as a place to do business.

It’s the brainchild of cathaoirleach Peter Burke, who says it will be the chairman’s project for the year while he is in office.

But he says he has not spoken to any potential business leaders yet about getting involved.

He describes it as a high-end forum which will bring unique business ideas and a sustainable perspective to the economy of the county.

There’s a similar forum in Meath, which is chaired by former Taoiseach John Bruton and looks at key areas such as retail, food, SMEs and agriculture, where Cllr Burke says the Harvest 2020 plan offers enormous opportunities for Westmeath.

“It’s a clear and major chance for Westmeath County Council to lead the economic recovery in the town,” he told his colleagues at Monday’s Mullingar area meeting.

The forum will not be political, he said, and if someone like Michael O’Leary was approached to chair the forum, he would bring ideas, point out areas to improve, and work as an ambassador for the county, Cllr Burke said.

He said it is necessary to harness the expertise of those who can show how Westmeath is a great place to invest, and it will be something positive, a counterpoint to the relentless negative news about how the IDA is consistently leaving Westmeath out of the loop.

The proposal was widely supported, with Cllr Aidan Davitt describing it as very forward thinking, and Cllr Denis Leonard adding that all the people proposed at the meeting had Westmeath at their heart.

Similar towns across the world are more successful than Mullingar, Cllr Leonard said, embracing the suggestion.

“If there’s expertise, we should avail of it,” agreed Cllr Dollard, adding that the council should make a better effort to get over technical issues which sometimes stand in the way of planning permission for business.

The council executive also came out in support of the venture, with director of services David Hogan saying that the sooner it is up and running, the better.

The proposal will be brought to the Corporate Governance Grouping and the relevant SPC for consideration.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Burke said this is not a gimmick, but has “real meat on the bones”.

“This isn’t going to be a cost to the council. This is tapping on the knowledge, the innovative ideas of people who have been there, done that.”

If the worldwide expertise of prominent Westmeath entrepreneurs could be harnessed, it would lead to joined-up thinking and provide the positive message that Westmeath is open for business.


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