My welcome to the Regional Final of the Junior Achievement Competition 2015

I am honoured and excited to welcome all of you students, teachers, mentors, judges and guests to County Hall to the Regional Final of the Junior Achievement Company of the Year Competition 2015.

Cork hosted the first Junior Achievement Company Competition European Final back in 1990.

I don’t know whether it was this or an increasing awareness of the importance of entrepreneurs in Irish society but Cork County Council has massive respect and support for entrepreneurship in so many guises.

It supports entrepreneurs active in the fields of science, food, arts, crafts, retail – so many areas.

Since April of last year, the Local Enterprise Offices have become part of the local government structure.  They offer support to small enterprises supporting up to 10 people.  There are two Local Enterprise Offices in County Cork – one in South Cork at the Kinsale Road roundabout and another in North and West Cork with two offices, one in Mallow and the other in Clonakilty.  So if when you leave school or university you want to set up a business in County Cork, one of these Local Enterprise Offices will be your first port of call.

In 2014, they gave over €1m in financial assistance to over 60 projects.  These projects alone supported 125 jobs.

The Local Enterprise Offices run an annual start your own business competition called the Student Enterprise Awards programme.

In the world of local government, Cork County Council is unique in that since 2011, it ringfences 1% of rates collected from businesses in the county every year to put into a special fund dedicated to economic development.  This Economic Development Fund gives financial assistance to businesses in County Cork with capital grants, loan guarantees and it part-funds enterprise projects.

Cork County Council has made a special effort to foster economic and entrepreneurial links with China.  In September of last year, a delegation from the County Council visited the Jiangsu region of China.  The delegation included representatives from 3 Cork schools who hoped to develop a relationship with their Chinese counterparts.

It is of course the County Council which is spearheading the development of a new science and innovation park at Curraheen, on a 100 ha greenfield site.  The concept is for a cluster of hi-tec businesses and research companies with incubation units linked to UCC and CIT.

And last year Cork County Council offered 165 fully serviced industrial sites to businesses, including some industrial units specifically for business start-ups.

The seed that makes all of this available to you is Junior Achievement.

Junior Achievement tells you to see how what you are learning at school is relevant to the real world after school.  It teaches you how to maximise what your education offers you and to use that education to make your own opportunities.

Junior Achievement now reaches almost 70,000 students in primary and secondary schools all over Ireland.

Some of my own kids have taken part in Junior Achievement at primary level.  They loved it.  My now 11-year old daughter was particularly taken with the replacement hip joints she learned about from DePuy representatives as part of the Our Universe programme.

You guys are the future.  The skills you will develop through school and implement when you leave school can bring economic success to our county and pride to our country.  This is your time because your entrepreneurship has the potential to change the world.

Best of luck to you all in this Regional Final of the Junior Achievement Company of the Year competition.  Not all of you can go forward to the National Finals, but all of you who have got this far are winners in your own right.  Congratulations.  I hope you have a wonderful day here in County Hall and I wish you all best of luck, not just for today but for all the entrepreneurial achievements you will enjoy throughout the rest of your lives.