LOCAL authorities need to accept the importance of joining together at regional level to maximise opportunities at national and international level urged new Junior Minister Willie Penrose TD at his first official function last Wednesday night - the launch of the new MidlandsIreland.ie brand.
The brand is part of a major campaign to re-brand the Midlands as a destination for enterprise, tourism, learning and living which has been launched by the Midland Regional Authority and the Midlands Gateway Chamber.
“Strong and competitive regions are essential given the many great challenges that currently face our great country,” added Minister Penrose.
“Cohesion is the essential ingredient in making regions work. We wear our county jerseys with much pride and so we should. But there also comes a time when we need strong teams around us to play at higher levels.
“The launch of regional brands like MidlandsIreland.ie is evidence that local authorities in Ireland now understand and accept the importance of representing their localities, but also of thinking and acting strategically.”
The aim of the new stronger regional identity is to attract new business, tourists and families to the Midlands, said Martin Daly, MRA Director.
Cllr Johnny Penrose, Chairman of the Authority, (and brother of the Minister) pointed out that the exciting campaign will focus attention on the region and show the world how the region is “dynamic, progressive and centrally located.”
The new brand MidlandsIreland.ie will be promoted through a dedicated website, media campaign, road signs and through organisations such as Chambers of Commerce, Local Authorities and local businesses. The strategic goal is to develop and market a distinctly unique image and identity for the region that will attract investment and economic activity to the region as well as strengthening and sustaining rural communities in order to complement urban centres, and contribute to the distinct identity of the region.
“MidlandsIreland.ie will be the brand that represents the region in multiple contexts and to diverse audiences” explained Mr Daly. He added, “This collaborative approach will give the region a stronger competitive advantage, create a distinct identity on a global scale, attract and retain population and investment and support regional tourism.”
The Midland Regional Authority represents counties Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly. “Together is better,” outlined Mr Daly. “The MidlandsIreland.ie brand recognises that each county has its own strengths to build upon, its own place within the region and that together we can develop a dynamic, progressive and vibrant region centrally located in the heart of Ireland.”
Paul O’Reilly, President of Midlands Gateway Chamber, added “The centrality of the Midlands offers companies an excellent array of high quality property options, a number of leading academic facilities producing highly skilled graduates, advancement of infrastructure and an established track record of investments across industry sectors.”
The new brand was officially launched by four keynote speakers one for each area of promotion - Enterprise (Dr John Teeling, Cooley Distillery); Tourism (Ray Byrne, Wineport, Glasson); Living (Irish Times columnist and playwright Michael Harding); and Learning (Dr. Michael Tobin AIT).
Dr Teeling, Chairman of Cooley Distillery, producers of Kilbeggan whiskey, challenged the notion of developing a brand to promote the midlands and urged the MRA to be cautious in spending money unless there was co-operation from all parties involved.
Despite what the Minister had to say about cohesion, Dr Teeling feared the county jersey would still be a priority rather than the region. However, he felt the promotion of the brand was worth a shot and suggested that the MRA should focus on areas like using social media and the diaspora to get the message across - “get them to be your ambassadors”.
Athlone Institute of Technology is another high-profile supporter of the new brand MidlandsIreland.ie. “The Midlands offers an unrivalled quality of education for learners of all ages, with opportunities ranging from pre-school through to third level and life-long learning opportunities,” said Dr Michael Tobin. “Recent years have seen considerable investment in the educational infrastructure, so that facilities throughout the region are amongst the best in the country. Access to third level education has never been as easy with excellent infrastructure that allows people from all over the country to get to the Midlands.”
In a very entertaining talk on living in the Midlands writer Michael Harding said there were numerous opportunities to promote the midlands through culture and these should be grasped.