ABC Councillor in New Role to Lead Mid South West Region Economic Growth

ABC Councillor Thomas O Hanlon
ABC Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, the incoming Chair of the Mid South West Region Governance Steering Group

An Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Councillor takes up the new role as Chair of the Mid South West Region Governance Steering Group, which is leading the next stage of plans to supercharge the area’s economy.

Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon will be working alongside the new Vice Chair Councillor Paul McLean from Mid Ulster District Council, as the cross council collaboration continues its work to transform the economic outlook of the region through the delivery of the Mid South West Regional Economic Strategy.

Developed as a collaboration between Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and Mid Ulster District Council, the strategy is centred on boosting productivity but also seeks to drive business growth, fully realise the Region’s sectoral strengths and opportunities, create more and better-paid jobs and ensure the ongoing internationalisation of Mid South West (MSW) can be achieved.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is represented on the Group by Councillors Mark Baxter, Sam Nicholson, Thomas O’Hanlon and Kevin Savage and together with the other members of the Governance Steering Group, they are collectively responsible for providing economic leadership and strategic oversight of the Strategy’s delivery.

The Strategy, which stemmed from extensive research and analysis of the Region’s economy and was informed by engagement with the major employers throughout the Region, identifies challenges and opportunities and sets out four pillars to guide investment and grow the collective economy.

The pillars are: future proofing the skills base, enabling infrastructure, boosting innovation and digital capacity and building a high performing tourism economy.

Looking ahead to his time in the new role, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, Chair of the Mid South West Region Governance Steering Group, said: “It is a privilege to take up the baton from the former Chairs of the Steering Group, Councillors Cathal Mallaghan and Robert Irvine, and to help guide and develop the work ahead. I would like to thank my preceding Chair Councillor Robert Irvine and Vice Chair, former Councillor Joe Nelson for their diligent leadership and commitment.

“We have much work to do but our focus has been sharpened by the Regional Economic Strategy and we will maximise every opportunity to help us reach our ultimate aim of supercharging this Region’s economic fortunes. Through the collaboration of the three councils, we have the opportunity to play to our sectoral strengths, to address challenges impeding economic growth and to supercharge our economy for this generation and those to come.”

The strategy was launched in September 2020 by First Minister Arlene Foster MLA and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA and work has been progressing since then under the visionary leadership of the Steering Group.

Speaking after his appointment, Councillor Paul McLean, Vice Chair of the Mid South West Region Governance Steering Group, said:

“The Mid South West Regional Economic Strategy is without doubt the most significant means by which we can stimulate and create long-term, sustained economic growth and prosperity across this region. We have already shown through our effective collaboration to date that by working together we are eminently more powerful and will be more successful in realising our ambitions as laid out in the strategy.

“I am looking forward to continuing to build on the partnership’s work in this new role, particularly with our key stakeholders across our business and education sectors”.

Playing to the Region’s sectoral strengths in manufacturing, engineering, agri-food, health and life sciences, tourism and construction as well as a fast growing digital tech sector, the strategy sets out a number of potential projects under each of the pillars which, with targeted investment, would help boost productivity. These include, for example, further development of critical road infrastructure; the implementation of a Skills Action Plan; the development of an Innovation and Skills Academy through the South West College and an Agri-Food Robotics Centre at CAFRE Loughry Campus; enabling business development in Carn, Craigavon; delivery of a MSW destination tourism experience; and, further development of cross-border assets such as the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark.

These projects will be subject to further consideration and scrutiny as the Steering Group turns its attention towards the development of the business cases that will be required to secure a Growth Deal for the Region.

The Growth Deal, which is just one of the economic levers that will be required to support the delivery of the Strategy, is a medium to long term plan so it will be vitally important to manage the expectations of all stakeholders, who like the Mid South West Region Governance Steering Group, are championing the case for investment.

The Mid South West Region Governance Steering Group comprises Councillors Mark Baxter, Mary Garrity, Martin Kearney, Sam Nicholson, Robert Irvine, Cathal Mallaghan, Thomas O’Hanlon, Barry McElduff, Paul McLean, Kevin Savage, Errol Thompson and Trevor Wilson.

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