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Protecting current and future food industry jobs, enabling thriving small businesses to scale, and invigorating the regional economy are the driving forces behind the new Leitrim Food Enterprise Zone (LFEZ) and its sibling facility, the thriving Drumshanbo Food Hub.
Some successful companies founded and built at the Food Hub were struggling to realise their full potential due to capacity constraints.
Support from the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) means the town can build the Leitrim Food Enterprise Zone, a bespoke new food production facility, specifically designed to enable these innovative food businesses to expand. A new high-tech food innovation and education centre due for construction will further deepen Drumshanbo’s capacity for extraordinary food entrepreneurship.
Ensuring that Ireland’s innovation ecosystem is country-wide, with a strong spirit of entrepreneurship driving job creation in every region, is core to Enterprise Ireland’s strategy.
Financial and other support from Enterprise Ireland is certainly driving the growth of a regional food powerhouse in Leitrim. Enabling growing Irish food businesses to scale internationally from rural Ireland is the core motivation behind the Leitrim Food Enterprise Zone (LFEZ), currently in development in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim.
The town has long had a strong reputation for food entrepreneurship due to the Drumshanbo Food Hub, which has thrived there for two decades. Home to three Enterprise Ireland client companies, it has fostered significant regional economic development.
By 2019, however, some of the eight businesses based at the Hub were stuck, as they had outgrown their units and had no further capacity to expand. Collectively, they employed 180 people, but they could not continue to hire further without larger premises.
Seeking support for scaling from REDF
Keenly aware of the further potential for job creation and growth represented by the successful companies in the Hub, the local community came together to protect current and future jobs in the food industry. It decided to seek Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) funding to create a second food-grade facility, where growing local businesses could have the scope to truly scale.
With close to €2m in REDF funding and a bank loan, the local community was able to buy a disused factory as a home for the new LFEZ. Renovation works are in progress to renovate it to meet current food-grade, regulatory and export standards. Set to open in early 2024, the facility will provide 15,000 sq ft of new food production space.
Tailored production spaces for thriving companies
While the units in the original Food Hub were fitted out to a standard specification so that any food start-up or small business could manage to operate in them, LFEZ is different. The three large production units there are being customised to meet the needs of specific companies.
Among these is Chef in a Box, one of Ireland’s leading ready meal producers. Having been based in Drumshanbo Food Hub, its growth has been limited due to the size and constraints of the unit in which it has been based. It has had to outsource the production of some lines to a company in Northern Ireland, for example, and put other plans for expansion on hold.
Currently employing 45, it expects to increase its workforce to 75 within a year of moving to its larger bespoke unit in LFEZ, where it will be the anchor tenant. Its move will also free up a unit in the Food Hub where a newer business can take root and begin to build.
LFEZ also has several other strong candidates seeking to take space in the newly refurbished factory. Once they are in situ, they should create an additional 50 or more direct jobs in Drumshanbo and the surrounding region.
Repurposing vacant manufacturing facilities
The original Drumshanbo Food Hub began when the community of Drumshanbo came together to buy the old Lairds jam factory premises, which had been lying idle. They converted it into small food-grade units and opened the Drumshanbo Food Hub, one of the first such sites in Ireland.
In 2019, the community sought to purchase another unused local factory. It had been originally built in the 1980s as an IDA advance factory, which had a German shoe company as a tenant. It shut down with the loss of 50 or so jobs in the late 1980s. Other than a brief stint as a chicken processing facility from 2000 to 2001, the facility was empty since.
Now it represents the copperfastening of Drumshanbo as a food centre of excellence and a significant regional employment hub.
Building a thriving food industry
To further develop the local food ecosystem, the community also applied for and secured €2.8m in funding from the Department of Community and Rural Development for an additional 7,500 sq ft LFEZ facility.
This will see the construction of a new food innovation and education centre, which will be home to new labs for food testing, education, and food innovation space. It’s expected to lead to the creation of more high-value food industry jobs and will also be linked to Atlantic Technological University (ATU). Construction on this project will start in late 2024.