Local entrepreneurs have thrown down the gauntlet to politicians after purchasing a major site on the outskirts of Derry which they hope will become the nucleus for rebooting the economy.
The group of prominent and established businessmen from Derry and Inishowen have taken matters into their own hands and are hopeful of attracting European buy-in to help set up a £2-£3m North West Stem Centre of Excellence on the three acre site at Skeoge Industrial Estate along the Derry-Donegal border.
The men said that planning permission for a 10,000 sq. ft. facility has already been obtained, with another four acres available for further expansion.
They have now unveiled a strategy which they project could create 1,000 new knowledge intensive jobs and 4,000 apprenticeships and 100 new high growth businesses over a five year period, providing opportunities for people across the Derry and Donegal region.
The Centre of Excellence would initially target the global disaster resilience market, specialising in areas such as communications, software systems, disaster recovery/ relief, biohazard, risk management.
Contact has already been made with national and international aid agencies to discuss the project, as well as major economic bodies, business leaders and departments as well as educational institutes at home and in the US.
The group said that the believe their detailed industry-led proposals “may finally provide the people of this city an opportunity escape the cycle of low wage, low skills jobs”.
One of the investors, Colm McKenna said they would now be seeking a meeting with the new supercouncil, and were hopeful local politicians would get onboard with the project.
The project has been spearheaded by engineering company owner Stephen Wade of SWF Ltd along with a number of partners. Mr Wade also has experience of new product development, invention and patenting in conjunction with Magee in Derry and Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT), as well as experience of industrial building projects.
The others involved in the project include Patrick Simpson of Fortuna Enterprises Ltd- whose family’s portfolio includes the Superbowl Complex in Derry and Tul na Ri in Carndonagh among other successful enterprises; Colm McKenna, owner of Broad Enterprises Ltd, a property company operating in the north and in Britain, and owner of Texaco Muff; and George McCormick of Greencastle Energy Management Systems, who has also been successful in product research, development and production.
Mr Simpson said the project was “visionary and capable, if successful, of transforming the city economically”, and he also called for “all politicians of the city and area to put their weight behind it”.
Mr McCormick added: “Such a centre should be at the core of a medium and long term strategy to establish a sustainable locally driven engineering industry which will not disappear after a few years to a lower cost base elsewhere.”
Mr McKenna added: “If this city is to have an economic future it needs to develop a core enterprise culture and this type of research and development centre proposed could provide the hub to establish, to re-establish a strong engineering industry in the city and research and development core leading to an enterprise culture.”