Clustering companies will strengthen border region economy


IT Sligo is leading a new initiative, funded by Enterprise Ireland and in partnership with Letterkenny and Dundalk Institutes of Technologies, to strengthen collaboration between manufacturing companies across the border region known as “Clustering”.

“Clustering is a phenomenon that is now highly developed across Europe, with companies learning to collaborate in areas from skills and technology development to joint marketing and sharing specialist equipment” says Chris O’Malley, Vice President for Research, Innovation & Engagement at IT Sligo. “Companies in clusters show over 40% more growth and are more than twice as innovative as others. Ireland urgently needs to catch up on the learning from that experience.”

Finola Howe has taken on the role of Industry Outreach Manager at IT Sligo and will be focused on supporting companies in learning from the experience of successful industry clusters internationally and how to foster effective collaboration across a range of potential opportunities. She will also provide a channel for companies to access the resources of the ITs that can support companies in their development.

Finola has over 25 years’ experience working in industry and brings a breadth of experience to the Industry Outreach Management role.  She has held various executive leadership positions in international locations within a global multinational manufacturing company, including management of a manufacturing plant, and global responsibility for manufacturing quality and for environmental and chemical compliance policies and procedures.  On returning to Ireland, she worked with executive teams across Industry and the Higher Education sectors as a Management Consultant. Since 2018 Finola has worked with IT Sligo as the Technology Gateway Manager working with industry to enable innovation through linking academic researchers to industry research and development projects.

The Border Region Manufacturing Cluster Initiative will increase the engagement and connectivity of the three Institutes of Technology, Sligo, Dundalk and Letterkenny in the border region with the economy and industry overall and with manufacturing companies in particular. The overall aim is to strengthen productivity, competitiveness and internationalisation in this exposed manufacturing sector, which is facing the urgent issues of Brexit, internationalisation, automation/industry 4.0 and digitalisation, new technologies & the low carbon economy.

Finola Howe highlights “We are coming through very challenging times with Brexit and Covid, many companies in the manufacturing industry are having to pivot, reassess their supply chains and innovate quickly in order to remain competitive. It is critical we look at different ways of working that can increase the productivity and competitiveness of the manufacturing sector in our region. Clusters offer that opportunity for companies to collaborate at fundamental levels to solve common ‘pain points’, and the success of the European Cluster landscape proves it is a vital part of growth. We want to develop a vibrant and collaborative manufacturing cluster ecosystem here – led by industry and aligning the supports from academic institutes and governmental agencies. This collaborative approach offers a lot of opportunities and benefits to companies, and I’m excited to work with Industry, academic and government agency partners to start our Cluster journey”.