One of the main products of the EIS project is the formulation of individual Action Plans for the 7 involved partner regions. These Action Plans should improve the individual regions’ business support services, in order to make it as easy as possible for the SMEs to gain access to international markets.

An EIS Action Plan for Donegal, Ireland

One such Action Plan was created by Local Enterprise Office Donegal, who via specific initiatives will help in solving identified problems, which hamper the international export opportunities of the local SMEs. These initiatives include awareness raising workshops in Donegal; screening of internationalisation potentials of SMEs; an improved coordination of regional support systems to assist the local SMEs; and the development of a support programme based on identified business needs to assist the local SMEs.  

Michael Tunney, Local Enterprise Office Donegal explains: “By focusing on raising the level of awareness amongst SMEs of the range of existing services available for internationalisation, we believe that substantial impact can be made together with adjustments in the services provided. With the EIS reflections at hand and actions formulated in the Action Plan for Donegal, we are now adjusting our policy and making the necessary changes to optimise the regional SMEs opportunities for internationalising their businesses.”

Identifying the obstacles

In order to work out a solution the problems first need to be identified. This was done via an individual peer-reviewed feedback from the other EIS involved partners, through which multiple sub-optimal factors concerning Donegal County was identified. For though there was a strong national emphasis on assisting SMEs going international via Enterprise Ireland, there was no formal structured co-ordination for SMEs to internationalise at county level. Thus, a broad national focus could not sufficiently reflect the needs of regional SMEs in Donegal County and accordingly could not provide services in a sufficiently at a local level. Also, while the intentions were sound, no pro-active or on-going promotion or awareness campaigns were conducted to make these services widely known to the broad base of SMEs locally.

A small country caught in a big storm

The initiative is very timely for Donegal and for Ireland. Ireland is a small open economy and is heavily dependent on both exporting and inward investment. Over the years the country has been very successful at attracting foreign direct investment from all over the world and especially from the USA, the UK, and Europe. A result of this however, is that the country’s economy is quite susceptible to any changes in this area. In recent years Irelands economy has been booming and was in 2016 the fastest growing economy in Europe. The last couple of years however, have brought on several challenges in the form of a weakened Sterling pound following Brexit and the ongoing trade war with the current US administration. Both of which have had an impact on Irish exports that as a result has dropped several percentages. To combat this the national business and export promoting organisation Enterprise Ireland focuses on reviewing current policies and on developing new support instruments to increase exports to the Eurozone and to markets outside of the UK, to increase the country’s exports and revenue by adapting to the challenges at hand. In this regard the EIS Action Plan for Donegal County provides a useful tool that supports the development of assistance to SMEs at a local level, in accordance with the wider national goal of overcoming the challenges presently facing Ireland.