In addition to the Telecom investment in computers and communications technology, Ennis is also set to gain on the employment front with at least one major industry already committed to relocate to the town if it succeeds in its bid to become Europe’s first Information Age Town. The high tech investment will also improve the town’s profile as a location for new industry and a number of major institutions are planning to follow Telecom’s lead in providing special incentives for the winning centre.
These include the AIB banking group whose Information Age Town package will incorporate a range of special offers and free services.
Of the original 51 towns that entered only four are left and a five man panel of assessors will arrive in Ennis on Tuesday to judge the town’s claim as frontrunner for the major prize. Although Kilkenny and Killarney have made strong submissions, Castlebar is now the being viewed as the biggest threat to Clare hopes of outright success.
According to Cratloe-based science and technology journalist Anna Nolan, the Castlebar bid caused a stir with the judges when they visited the Mayo town for final adjudication last week. "There seems to be a tremendous level of local support for Castlebar’s bid. When the judges visited the town on Monday of last week, all the shops had banners and posters while there was 2,000 people out of a population of 6,000 to meet the judges when they arrived in the town mall.
"They also have an Information Age office in the town centre which has computers supplying access to the Internet and they have retained all press cuttings on Information Technology. The Castlebar submission certainly seemed to create an impression with the judges", the Clare-based journalist said.
But, according to the local co-ordinators, Ennis is still very much in pole position.
"We are on a roll and this weekend, I want to tell the opposition that they’ll find it hard to beat the Banner" said Ennis Chamber of Commerce president TJ Waters. "This is another crucial All Ireland and while we greatly respect the work of the other competing teams in Castlebar, Kilkenny and Killarney, our aim is to win" he declared.
Mr. Waters sees the success of Ennis in the context of a Clare renaissance in the nineties. "There has been a rebirth with new energy and spirit in hurling, football, business and economic activity. Our ambitions for the Information Age is a logical extension for this renewal", he said.
Assistant county manager Tom Dowling said the renewal of Ennis is a result of a sensible and energetic partnership between the public and private sector. "Winning this competition will be good for business", he said, "but it will also improve the quality of life for everyone. Imagine a homeowner sitting down at a computer and enrolling in a short course by distance learning with the VEC or keeping track of the household budget. People can work part time from home, simply order the groceries by e-mail or even comment on a planning application. This is the future and Co. Clare must be at the cutting edge".
The focus of the Telecom judges to Ennis next Tuesday is a special hour long presentation in the West County Hotel.
The judging panel, chaired by Telecom Eireann chief executive Alfie Kane will also have an opportunity to browse the Ennisnet and explore the other high levels of Co. Clare technology at a special exhibition on the Information Age at the Inisheer conference room of the West County Hotel. This is open to the public next Tuesday afternoon from 4 to 7 pm.
The assessors will be taken on a town tour on Tuesday afternoon and will visit a number of locations which demonstrate the growing sophistication of Information Age technology in Ennis. These include the medical instrumentation facility of Vitalograph on the Ennis industrial estate, the de Valera library and the Ennis Business Centre.
As the judges are escorted through the streets the UDC chairman Tommy Brennan has asked people to show their support. "Stop and chat to them. Let them know you support the Information Age Town and let’s give them a warm friendly Ennis welcome", Cllr. Brennan said. AS special Information Age centre has been opened at the mall in Dunnes Stores. All are welcome to access the Internet free of charge. People can also get any information they require on the Information Age Town and find out how winning this competition will benefit them.
The judges will be welcomed by the chairman of Ennis Urban District Council Cllr. Tommy Brennan. T.J. Waters and Tom Dowling will lead the presentation on behalf on Ennis. The main elements of the submission will be outlined by a team of presenters, including solicitor Pamela Wall, public health nurse Bridget Barron, Josephine Cotter Coughlan from Ennis UDC, Seamus O’Sullivan from IBEC, Bob Struz of the University of Limerick, Triona McInerney from Ennis Chamber, county planning and development officer Ciaran Lynch, Shannon Development representatives John Quinlivan and Marial Hannon, Holy Family school principal Margaret Cooney, auctioneer Philip O’Reilly, John Rice from Ulster Bank and accountant Noel Connellan.
The presentation will be introduced by Caimin Jones and will be broadcast by Clare FM starting just after 2 pm.