Chamber President: Let’s all play a role in Cork’s future

The new Chamber President Paula Cogan, Sales Director at the Doyle Collection, has spoken passionately about the need for active citizenship, sustainability, and most critically, delivery on commitments made if Cork is to excel on a global stage.
Chamber President: Let’s all play a role in Cork’s future
President of Cork Chamber, Paula Cogan, pictured at the Chamber’s 200th AGM held in the Imperial Hotel, Cork.Pic John Sheehan

Chamber Past Presidents, Board, committees, members and team, it is my honour and my pleasure to take the role of Chamber President for the next two years.

I would like to convey my own personal thanks to many Past presidents who are here this evening. I have had the pleasure to work with many through the years be it on working groups such as the annual dinner or Chamber 200 and I can attest to the unique passion and commitment that each President brought to the role.

As Chair of the Cork Chamber 200 working group I was proud to read that on 8 th November 1819 when the original Chamber was established one of the first members elected was John Cogan. It seems it is in the DNA.

I wish to reflect on the role of immediate past President Bill O’Connell for guiding the Chamber through two of the most critical years in it’s history. In 2018, the Chambers’ 199 th year, Cork was finally differentiated and acknowledged in Ireland 2040, a plan that is quite unique, aligning capital spend and spatial planning to create a vision for Ireland with Cork as Ireland’s thriving second city.

The fastest growing City region in Ireland.

With a focus on diversity throughout his presidency Bill brought great change to the Annual Dinner, a cornerstone of the Cork business and social calendar. Real progression is about continual improvement, implementing supported change. With over 40% of our future population coming from other nationalities this is a value that I will continue to reinforce. Bill oversaw a new strategic plan and vision for the Chamber. To make Cork the best place to live and work. The best place for business.

Finally, he led us into our third century as an organisation and invited me to keep the Presidency and the Chamber in safe hands, as we seek to inspire and engage the next generation on our journey.

My own involvement with Cork Chamber started in 1996 when I joined the Young Enterprise committee and I have held various roles since that time so I feel confident I have served my apprenticeship

In my role I will be your ambassador. The President of the Chamber and the voice of the business community. I will be forthright in delivery but collegiate in approach. Looking at the challenges of Brexit, a European swing to the right, rising global populism, climate change, the delivery of our own infrastructure plans as a country, housing, the future of work and our competitiveness as a City Region and as a State, the stakes have never been higher.

The State has come out of a deep recession. It celebrates significant centenaries year on year. The time has come for maturing of approach and invigoration of debate in equal measure. Real discussion of our country’s USP, our role as active citizens, the need for resilient growth and most importantly for economic and social stability. We must work increasingly harder to build consensus and trust in our companies, institutions and systems. Expectations have never been higher. They have also never been more varied in outlook. We must have confidence in the values in which we’ve been raised. We must speak with fair minded words.

But ultimately to build trust we must deliver on our words. As Chamber, we are conscious of our role as active citizens. This year we partnered with the Glucksman to create Future Forms, to bring our best creatives and the minds of our future, our primary, secondary and third levels students together to debate and to create through art, a vision of Cork for the next 200 years. Future Forms showcased the creativity of over 1000 young Cork people and the positive, civic vision they have for our city. The participants highlighted climate action, developments in transport, the future of design and sustainable architecture. Their artworks signal the potential for Cork to develop as a global hub of innovation and is a brilliant way to celebrate 200 years of business working together in our city.

We are the first business group to create a Social Innovation Fund that aims to provide €200,000 in funding to projects that will bring a lasting benefit to the people and communities of Cork.

Innovation, scale and impact are key. These are words that resonate with the Chamber. We look forward to working with SIFI and members as the benefits of this project unfold.

We are also supporting Design Pop, an innovative new festival. A blend of architecture, art and food that will bring installations to our City this summer to create some extra flair to showcase our creativity and further enliven our streets. We will continue to support the Academy of Urbanism and to work with our partners in City Regions Ireland to drive the agenda of all that is good for City Regions.

There is no limit to the level of impact that the business community can make. It has responded with great confidence and speed of action, to the commitments set out in Ireland 2040. We are building, office, commercial, hotels, student accommodation and housing. We are competing for talent internationally, improving our diversity and our innovation. We have over 1 million square foot of office in planning and development. Over 5,000 new jobs coming to the City in the next three years alone. The evidence of this is plain for all to see in the levels of construction activity moving steadily towards the docklands. We have business confidence at 96%. 80% of Cork companies expect to increase turnover in the next 12 months.

Yet it is essential that the commitments of Ireland 2040 are delivered or our confidence will be undermined. Infrastructure is the neutral enabler. It does not favour individual or sectors. It provides for resilience. Flexibility for the jobs and people of the future. A city region with the track record, scale an ambition of Cork needs flexibility and functionality. From bike schemes, to bus corridors and motorways, each has their part to play in creating a City that is globally magnetic.

We need the delivery of the M20 and northern ring road without delay. We must take the HGV’s out of our City. We must continue to boldly prioritise public transport corridors such as that on St Patrick’s street throughout the City region. We must build the M28 and the N22 bypass opening our connectivity to the South West. We need delivery of and robust commitment to the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy and an NTA office in Cork. Of our cycle lanes and stations, our commuter rail and our bus corridors and light rail. The relative cost of implementing cycle lane infrastructure is minimal. There is no reason why we can’t start this tomorrow. We must improve our Cork Dublin rail journey times. A consistent two hours at first with a view to electrification and a 90-minute run to better connect with our capital.

We need the Urban Regeneration Fund allocation to align with the City Regions identified in Ireland 2040. To do anything less in this second year of allocation is to undermine the vision set forth and the investor confidence instilled to date. Our new representative group, City Regions Ireland, allied with Irelands 4 other city regions will champion this cause.

Ultimately, we are 14 months from the announcement of Ireland 2040 and progress, relative to that delivered by the private sector is slow. We need a laser sharp delivery focus from Government in 2019 or our reputation for infrastructural delivery among the global and local business community will be on the line. Every state agency, civil servant and policy document must acknowledge the specific role of Cork in Ireland 2040.

Accommodation is a key concern of the Cork business community, consistently in our top three priorities. To provide for our growth, we must build high density in our City and town cores. Yet of all the areas of viability in the built environment, this is the most challenged. We are working with our colleagues in CIF to examine this in detail, and are working with Government to elevate our potential solution in Budget 2020.

What attracts a tourist to Cork is the same as what attracts talent and inward investment. Place, culture and quality of life. Fifteen year ago 80% of people chose a job before a location. Now, 64% choose their City of choice first, and their job thereafter. Through our ongoing work through Connecting Cork and our ardent support of We Are Cork, we will continue to drive profile raising, brand awareness,

The hospitality sector in Cork is part of the Cork confidence story, investing in infrastructure, people and experiences that are second to none. There is a planned 30% increase in bedstock. Yet there is an elephant in every hotel room in Cork. The Event Centre is a critical piece of cultural infrastructure for Cork. The message from Cork Chamber is very clear. The commitments of all involved parties must be honoured and progressed with the utmost haste. We expect clarity from cabinet in Cork this Wednesday, on the administration and funding of the Centre and this must be met with clarity on delivery.

Sustainability must be part of our life. Not a projected morality or a nice to have add on. We see our young people taking to the streets. We see mass protests in London. The issue was raised incessantly in our Future Forms Glucksman workshops. When we speak about Ireland 2040, we must remember that these are the people who will be driving our economy by then. We are planning and making decisions for them. This is why Cork Chamber champions sustainable transport, renewable energy, density, infrastructure and placemaking. This is why our members prioritise sustainable transport and accommodation. If our City region is anything short of exemplary in these fields then we have failed the next generation of investors, innovators, entrepreneurs and influencers. A City region that stagnates very quickly becomes and irrelevance.

We all have a role to play as active citizens if we are to evolve and further develop of reputation as a country and as a City Region that offers stability in parallel with innovation. Government must play its part. We must be creative and think beyond traditional boundaries. We must challenge and engage in debate. We must stand by our convictions and most importantly we must deliver on our vision.

I look forward to working with you all over the coming two years. Together, we are making Cork the best place for business.

This is an extract from the full speech

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