We need to start now to get the city we want in 2070, says new Chamber president

Dermot Nolan, president of Galway Chamber. 
Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Dermot Nolan, president of Galway Chamber. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

What's that old adage about if you need a job done, to give it to a busy person. Well, that is what Galway Chamber has done by electing as their President for the next term a man who has a real passion for his native city.

A masterpiece of sartorial elegance, Dermot Nolan is driven — from all sides. In his day job, he is Group Finance Director of the Headspace Group who have properties here and there in the city, most notably on Market Street, but also with several city car park facilities. Dermot is also a masters Irish hockey international, president of Galway Hockey Club, a board member of Bia Innovator in Athenry and as well as a key member of Baboró International Arts Festival for Children and Architecture at the Edge.

All of the above reflect his interests. A native of Salthill, Dermot now lives in Menlo with his wife Louise and their two sons, and is a graduate of Atlantic Technological University (ATU ), NUI Galway and University College Dublin (UCD ).

"It's a big honour to be president after many years involvement with the Chamber. I have been in it for seven or eight years now and I suppose, from day one, I just got stuck in and involved with various committees. I was chair of the Economic Policy Committee, that is now called the Evolving Committee.

"I think the Chamber does great work. Galway is very well positioned and a lot has happened positively over the last few years and this means we can drive it forward. Galway Chamber does a lot for the entire city and county and I think even more so over the next couple of years.

But he refuses to allow complacency to set in.

"Galway has gotten to a certain stage and if we don't get investment or see policy changes, we won't grow much more. The big task over the next couple of years is to demand that investment.

"Like other cities, we need infrastructure. Housing and transport are the two key ones currently. If we don't have housing, we don't attract the FDI companies because they cannot get staff, because if the staff can't live here, they can't work here.

"There is a lot going on that we need to be behind. The retail and hospitality sectors need a bit of love and attention.

Visit Galway brand

"Galway City Council are going to launch a Visit Galway brand in September and that is something we can certainly support, especially from a retail/hospitality side, to promote Galway as a brand.

"Personally, I think Galway's brand is not as strong as it was. We haven't invested in it in a couple of years. To a certain extent, certain sectors have sat back and said we're doing well, we're doing grand, but if we don't keep investing, you lose that competitive position.

"It will be a rebrand focusing on certain sectors. I think we are viewed as being the stag and hen capital and we need to move away from that.

Another issue that is linked to the Visit Galway brand and key to making people want to come here is our retail offering.

"Some people will say that we don't have a strong retail offering as other places, so we need to look at that and see what that is and see what we can do to improve it.

"The branding will entail letting people know all that we have to offer and to remind people that we are not just a destination for the stags and hens. It has to be a location that suits families and businesses. Our convention bureau are doing great work in attracting conventions.

Why is retail lagging behind? is it high rent?

"If you look at other cities around Ireland, they have strong retail offerings, and their rent is comparable to Galway, so there have to be other reasons why Galway is falling behind. We need to get to the bottom of this, we might not do it in twelve months, but at least we can start the process.

He agreed that the next ten years in Galway could shape the next century.

"There is a lot going on in the city, but we need to start now to get the next ten years right.

"When I started with the Chamber, there was a project called Vision 2040, but that all seems very near now. Then last year, in Galway Chamber, we relaunched Vision 2050, but we weren't aware that in the background, the Royal Institute iof Architects in Ireland were doing a Vision 2070 that they launched some months ago.

"I am also very involved with Architecture At The Edge, as there is a huge linkage with Vision 2070, Architecture At The Edge, and economic development. I think we need to start now to give us the city that we want in 2070.

"One of the things we would like to do when we are talking to City Council and County Council is to see if there are projects that we can start supporting now that would fit into that 2070 design.

"What I liked about the Vision 2070 document is that it talks about urban design, rather than saying we want a certain building on a certain corner. It has to be good urban design.

"So through the Chamber, Architecture At The Edge and the Greater Galway Forum over the next 18 months, we are going to be running community engagement projects, but focusing on what is good urban design and what isn't. We can't tell people what type of building to place and where, but we can advice that when you are thinking about putting one there, does it fit in with good urgan design principles, such as the movement of people around, transport, green spaces.

"Sustainable buildings will become the norm. We can all get behind Vision 2070. Of course, the people behind Vision 2070 are assuming that the Ring Road has proceeded, so that is one project that does need to happen. There are other elements of the Transport Strategy that can be implemented before the road is built.

Chamber membership

"I would encourage people to get involved with the Chamber. This is certainly a time to jump on and get involved. The profile and mix of the Council has changed significantly over the last few years as we were one of the first Chambers in Ireland to see that shift.

"It shows that we are getting the right mix of people coming forward, seeking election. If you are interested in driving Galway forward, then the Chamber is the place for you, because that is what we are dealing with.

"Our members certainly felt the pain over the last few years and the Chamber did a lot to support them. Some sectors and it is the same all across Ireland, fared well. The FDI, medtech sector did well, but it was the sectors of hospitality and retail, which are dependent on the movement of people, that felt the impact.

"There is definitely suffering out there still. The recovery from Covid is slower than would have been predicted. When we all started going back out last Autumn, the rate of increase we saw then has not gone as far as we would have predicted. This is not back to where it was, and it may never be again.

"Hybrid working works for people and it works for companies, so there is change. Hopefully 2023 will be another step in our recovery.

FDI mentoring

Dermot Nolan says that the Chamber will continue to play the key role it has in facilitating and mentoring new FDIs into the city. Showing them the ropes of their potentially new base.

"We see the support of the FDI investment as a key aspect of our work. We have built up a lot of data that we are able to share with the new FDIs. The IDA will always get us to meet with them. This is something that is unique about Ireland, that we feel the need to share the success by helping newcomers bringing jobs and lifestyle to our city.

"Within the Chamber, part of the reason that works for us is because of our two subs, the PorterShed and the Galway Technology Centre, as we get first hand data as to the issues faced by FDI.

"If you look at the level of activity in GTC and PorterShed, you see the amount of talent that comes through.

Dermot certainly has the energy for the role ahead — he is a keen hockey player who has earned his place on the Masters Ireland team that takes part in the World Cup later this year.

"It is for over 55s, so I just made it, " he jokes. "Yes, I play with a great bunch of lads and we will be taking part in the Over 55s Masters World Cup for Ireland in Cape Town in October, so I am really looking forward to that.

"I find hockey is a great way to relax and unwind. I play twice a week minimum, with Galway Hockey Club and a group called The Full Shilling.

In his role at Headspace, he also gets a unique look at how the city is faring.

"We have several car parks in the city, and by looking at their usage, we get such a direct barometer of the busy-ness of the city. When lockdown was announced, the tap closed, and we can see by our carpark revenue how the city is faring at any given time.

He has his finger on the pulse, the new President. A man with a determination to keep the Galway ball rolling. We wish him the best of luck.

 

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