Galway city and county has significant opportunity to develop its arts and culture sector into a global creative hub, and could make giant strides in areas such as ICT and the local food industry, according to a study published this week.
The Economic Baseline Study was launched jointly by Galway City Council and Galway County Council this week. Along with an accompanying website at www.galwaydashboard.ie it offers a snapshot of Galway across a broad spectrum of measures including demographics, enterprise, and the environment, and outlines strengths, opportunities, and recommendations for the continuing economic development of the area across nine industrial sectors.
The report found opportunities for growth across all sectors examined — namely marine, agriculture, education, medtech, ICT, food, tourism, retail, and creative. It highlights a number of assets in the city and county which can contribute greatly to the future development of the region, including local third level colleges, public research organisations such as the Marine Institute and Teagasc, as well as the Galway's extremely successful medical device sector and burgeoning ICT industry.
Two summaries of the study have been published, one for the city and one for the county, with significant overlap between the two. The report acknowledges that both local authority areas are economically interdependent.
According to the study, Galway has the potential to become a major global hub for creative industries and a leading national location for visual arts. The region already has a significant creative sector, with an audio-visual industry worth €72 million a year to the local economy, 35 heritage sites, 32 museums, 10 art galleries, and 83 festivals and events bringing in an estimated €62 million in expenditure in the area. The Irish language is worth a further €136 million to the region.
In total, the sector generates an annual turnover of €534 million and accounts for three per cent of jobs in Galway.
Galway's designation as 2014 UNESCO City of Film, its current bid for 2020 European Capital of Culture, and the location of GMIT's National Centre for Excellence in Furniture Design and Technology in Letterfrack are among the significant assets which could contribute to the area's development as a major creative hub. The report recommends developing a cultural trail, dubbed a "mini Atlantic Way", and spaces for creative start-ups in the region, along with supporting the growth of the audio-visual cluster and other creative technologies.
The local ICT sector also has the potential to become an international niche hub, according to the report, however a skills shortage and low broadband speeds could impede development in the sector. The report endorses plans to develop an innovation district in the city, with the first phase of this plan, The Portershed, due to open later this year.
In terms of agriculture and food, the report found a signficant increase in interest in locally produced foods with a total of 23 farmers' markets now operating in the city and county.
The authors suggests capitalising on this trend by developing a local produce brand, along with the development of regionally distinct food products similar to Waterford's iconic blaa bread. It also recommends greater collaboration between Galway's agricultural institutions, as well as supports for the region's 320 small food producers and a knowledge transfer between local producers and the area's thriving food industry.
Galway's dairy sector — the sixth largest in the country — also provides significant scope for the development of new milk products, particularly following the abolition of milk quotas, which placed a cap on production. The study, undertaken by NUI Galway's Whitaker Institute on behalf of the two local authorities, will form the basis for a number of strategies outlining the future growth of the city and county.