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Minister Humphreys launches Athy Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub

Minister Humphreys launches Athy Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub to promote creative learning and local development

Initiative led by Kildare County Council with support from Coca-Cola aims to build sustainable food industry opportunities in Athy and surrounding areas

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, today joined Kildare County Council to launch the new Athy Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub to promote economic development and creative learning in the town and surrounding areas. Supported by Coca-Cola, the Hub has the potential to be a transformational catalyst for community regeneration.

Kildare County Council plans to convert the historic Model School in Athy into a centre for educational and entrepreneurial excellence for the food sector.  In addition to offering fresh approaches to food and culinary skills training, this hub will provide a space for food producers in Kildare and the wider region to access high class facilities to enable them to develop innovative food concepts and to commence small scale production.

In line with its commitment to leave a positive legacy in Athy following the transfer of its concentrate manufacturing to Ballina, Coca-Cola is providing an investment of €500,000 to support the launch phase of the project. Scheduled for completion in 2020, the hub will help to empower local food-based entrepreneurs, offering the space, training and tools to drive their future success.  

The Athy Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub will comprise a:

  • Skills Hub: A 16-station learning and demonstration kitchen will be developed. The hub will offer innovative programmes and accredited career training programmes, continuing education for food entrepreneurs, industry professionals and chefs.
  • Community Timeshare Incubator Kitchen: A shared use commercial kitchen business that culinary entrepreneurs can use to develop and expand.
  • Community Food Discover Centre: Chefs and nutritionists will work to educate food companies, retailers and restaurateurs about the science of nutrition. It will also educate community groups about healthy food.
  • Co-Working / Collaboration Zone: A hot desk facility of 8 work stations and 3 private meeting rooms to allow emerging entrepreneurs to connect with peers and mentors providing access to specialist resources. The zone will include a food learners lounge and study space to foster community and innovation.

 Speaking at the launch of the Athy Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD said: “I’m delighted to join Kildare County Council and Coca-Cola in launching the Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub here in Athy. Through the new hub, budding entrepreneurs in the food and drink sector will have the space where they can access expertise and training, become more innovative, and grow their business, creating new job opportunities in the Mid-East region. As an industry leader, Coca-Cola remains a major employer on this island and their investment in this facility will help to ensure they leave a positive legacy in the local community. This project is an important element in the implementation of the Mid-East Regional Enterprise Plan, which I launched with regional stakeholders earlier this year” she added.

 Cllr Aoife Breslin, Chair of Athy Municipal District said: "This project is an exciting opportunity to reimagine the Model School in Athy as a place for education and learning. The Athy Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub will provide a dedicated space for enterprise, job creation and training for the benefit of people in Kildare. The collaboration between Kildare County Council, Maynooth University, KWETB, Carlow IT and Coca-Cola will ensure that entrepreneurs, small businesses, culinary students and the community can access the facilities and resources that will allow the hub to achieve its full potential in one of the most dynamic sectors."

 At today’s launch, Karen Denn, Operations Manager at Coca-Cola’s Athy International Concentrates plant said: “Coca-Cola has worked closely with Kildare County Council in recent months to help develop an idea that would create opportunities for economic development and job creation in the area. With such a huge interest growing in the food and drink sector, the Council identified a need for facilities and training that will help support entrepreneurs develop food and drink-based business ideas as well as help people from the county develop culinary and other food and drink related skills.  Coca-Cola has been involved with the town of Athy for many years and as we complete the transfer of our manufacturing operations to our Ballina Beverages facility, we felt it was important to be involved with a project that supports the entrepreneurial spirit that exists within the community. As a leading drinks company, we feel that the match is right between the County Council, Coca-Cola and the Innovation Hub.”

“Clustering learners and entrepreneurs in a central multi-tenant food incubator and training environment has been proven to be a dynamic business development process. In working with our key partners Enterprise Ireland, IDA, Carlow IT, Maynooth University, KWETB and the generosity of commercial partners like Coca Cola, Kildare County Councils plans to develop the Athy Food, Drinks & Skills Innovation Hub which will allow for real step changing impact. The visible impacts of the hub will allow for the facilitation of job creation, the up-skilling of youth and long-term unemployed learners with accredited qualifications and the support of new and emerging businesses in Athy" Peter Carey Chief Executive of Kildare County Council concluded.

The Athy Food and Skills Innovation Hub will also benefit from a partnership and outreach arrangement as set out as a Strategic Objective in the Mid-East Enterprise Plan. For example, the Boyne Valley Food Hub project in Navan is working to empower food and drink entrepreneurs, escalate their growth and provide economic, physical, and networking assets to strive and succeed.

Members of the Athy community interested in getting involved in the Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub should contact Kildare County Council at localenterprise@kildarecoco.ie.

 Ends                                                                                                  18 April 2019

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