Kenmare needs to broaden its economic activity out from tourism and could be attracting remote workers, according to participants at the Building Economic Resilience meeting in the Carnegie Theatre on 13 August.
A socio-economic plan for Kenmare is due to be launched in September and its author, consultant Ian Dempsey, gave us a sense of what to expect when he addressed the meeting.
His plan consists of 15 objections and 78 recommendations for us to work on and there will be further public discussion on these when the plan is launched.
While commending our tourism product, he pointed out that Kenmare is too keenly invested in it at the expense of alternative economic activity and that we are isolated at a time when connection to a larger economic ecosystem is vital.
We also have a higher-than-average age profile with a large section of our population over 65. What we need is stable, year-round employment for young people.
The meeting was organised by the local chapter of the Grow Remote movement, which is working to bring more remote workers to rural towns and thereby boost the economic and social fabric of communities.
Chapter lead Cleo Murphy presented a discussion on the topic with a panel which included local remote worker Fanny Binder, recruiter Angela Piper from Scraping Hub, Ken Tobin from the HQ co-working space in Tralee and Grow Remote founder Tracy Keogh.
Ms Keogh told the meeting there were 392 remote jobs waiting to be filled on the day. These are predominantly, but not exclusively, in tech and customer relations and could easily be done by people living in Kenmare, or any small town in rural Ireland, working from home or from co-working spaces.
Having such workers in town inevitably has a positive knock-on effect on shops, restaurants, bars and cafés, according to Ken Tobin who located his first co-working space in the centre of Tralee where surrounding businesses – including his own restaurant – are enjoying greater custom. He now has a second co-working space in Tralee and has recently opened one is Listowel, all of which are used by remote workers who enjoy having an office environment in which to work.
Aidan Murray of the Sneem Digital Hub (and Grow Remote chapter lead in Sneem) gave details of an information evening he was hosting the same week with Cork Institute of Technology to highlight part-time courses in the skills sought by remote employers.
“The nature of work and how work will be done in the future is radically different from how it was in the past,” says Ian Dempsey. “What you need to do is build your ecosystem, build your connectivity.”
There are, undoubtedly, challenges in bringing more people to live in Kenmare. Accommodation is one them and that won’t be solved until infrastructure, like the proposed upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant, allows for new homes.
But employment trends like remote working are worth examining for our future and the new socio-economic plan will be worthy of careful study.