18 Jan 2022

Hill Street Views: Economic corridor a game-changer for Dundalk

Opionion, views and commentary from former Democrat editor David Lynch

Hill Street Views: Economic corridor a game-changer for Dundalk

David Lynch

In case you hadn’t noticed, everything is a ‘game changer’ these days.

A brand-new vaccine – game-changer; new funding stream for urban renewal projects – a game-changer; any new policy at all – yep, a game-changer. Basically, anything which can give us some small measure of hope is called a ‘game-changer’ nowadays.

The phrase is in serious danger of losing all meaning and is about to be tipped into a big box of well-worn clichés at any moment.

So, in memory of this once unique, head-turning phrase, I’m going to give it one last run out - just for old times’ sake.

You probably heard about the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor being launched a week or two back. There was a bit of fanfare and commentary on the airwaves about it at the time.

Simply put, it has the potential to - you’ve guessed it - be a game-changer for Dundalk.

The thing is, we’ve been here before – sort of. In 2019, the M1 Corridor project was launched.

It was described as a major investment initiative to drive international investment into the greater region between Dublin and Belfast.

It was cheer-led by local business leaders and was supported by the Government’s 2040 plan.

In the two-plus years since then, things have gone relatively quiet on the M1 Corridor front.

Covid-19 certainly played a part in that, but obviously this new corridor plan has promptly stolen the limelight.
While the emphasis – and name – focuses on Dublin and Belfast, that should not detract from what this project could deliver for Dundalk and north Louth.

You could, to coin an American word, call the Dublin to Belfast corridor a ‘metroplex’, which is described as ‘a large metropolitan area usually made up of two or more cities along with neighbouring heavily populated areas.’

Along the 100-mile Dublin-Belfast Corridor there’s a population of over 2 million people and it is the most-heavily populated region of the island.

But, why the use of the word ‘metroplex’ in this context? Well, back in September 1998 I spent a couple of weeks visiting my uncle who was living in a place called Grapevine in the great state of Texas.

This ‘small-city’ of 50,000 people lies equidistant between the bigger cities of Dallas and Forth Worth (about 40 minutes by train from each).

Grapevine is smack, bang in the middle of the Dallas Forth Worth Metroplex. This economic region plays host to 11 counties in total and over 7 million people.

It has the third-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the US (after New York and Chicago). If this region were a sovereign state, it would be the 20th richest in the world.

What does being part of this metroplex mean for Grapevine?

Well, it’s now one of the most sought-after places to live in the entire state, with an unemployment rate consistently lower than the national average and a future job growth prediction of 39.4 percent – outstripping the national average of 33.5 percent.

The population of Grapevine has also increased by nearly 20 percent in just ten years.

It’s hard not to attribute a lot of Grapevine’s economic and by proxy, social, success to being part of the metroplex.

To show the scale of Grapevine’s success in just over a generation, back in 1980 the population of the town was just over 11,000.

As of 2019 it now stands at 55,281 –a population explosion of over 500% in 41 years!

Back in 1998, when I visited, Grapevine still felt like a small town with a lazy Sunday evening vibe, even on a Monday morning.

Today, due to its location and small-city feel, Grapevine is home to a new generation of former Dallas commuters that wanted out of the rat-race for good.

These same folk now live (and spend their city dollars) in the historic heart of Grapevine, bolstering a vibrant local economy and retail sector.

The town plays host to festivals and other social events year-round to keep the entertainment ticking over for its residents. It also provides – due to its proximity to the international airport – a number of conference centres and other such amenities for international travellers and businesses.

There’s no reason to stop Dundalk from achieving similar results if the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor takes off.

The similarities between Grapevine and Dundalk are clear to see, and, if the noises coming from local business are anything to go by, then the hunger to see it succeed is there too.

Speaking to RTE, Dundalk businessman Paul Johnston of STATSports described how being along the corridor is a “key factor” for his business’ ongoing success.

“That whole corridor allows us to get really high resources across multi-faceted departments, whether it's sports science, whether it's operations, whether it's sales, so it hits the whole gambit and that's really important for us in regards to driving our business and pushing this forward globally.”

Louth County Council CEO, Joan Martin, has also clearly picked up on the greater scope and scale this corridor appears to offer, compared to its predecessor – The M1 Corridor Project – she told RTE: “It offers the opportunity to look at the value added and how we could step up to a new level by collaborating and cooperating across the entire corridor instead of just Louth, or Louth and Newry working together, for example.”

This is not to suggest that both these corridor plans cannot complement each other – they can. But the feeling is that the newer, shinier version, has more torque driving it, both in terms of government policy and business interest.

Whether this project delivers economic results for the region is all theoretical right now, but elsewhere the precedent for success is there.

It’ll take considerable local, national and international effort to make the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor a real success.
But Dundalk needs to prominently position itself within this important conversation now.

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