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Foster launches Omagh and Fermanagh Smart Region project

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster today launched an innovative pilot project aimed at identifying economic development opportunities in Omagh and Fermanagh.

Intensive data analysis will be used to create a Smart Region in the districts currently covered by Omagh and Fermanagh Councils, which will become one area as a result of the Review of Public Administration.

A Smart Region is one that uses technology to capture, analyse and manage data to increase its competitiveness.

Arlene Foster explained: “This is a very exciting project. We are living in a new world and new thinking and new actions are needed to create the jobs we need to build a sustainable future. The starting point lies in understanding the importance of data in learning from the past and present to shape the future.

“Data can be used to help us understand more comprehensively what is happening in the region, why it is happening and, most importantly, what needs to happen next. It will inform what needs to be done to achieve the mission of making Fermanagh and Omagh a Smart Region. 

“The exercise is timed to coincide with the planning for the next round of EU Structural Funds, which will fund activities from 2014 – 2023. With more limited EU resources likely to be allocated to Northern Ireland than in the past, greater effort must go into identifying the very best projects which have the greatest potential for lasting impact. The Smart Region pilot will help do this.” 

The initiative is also a practical application of the ‘Smart Specialisation' approach which all EU Member States and Regions are required to apply when deciding on their funding priorities for the new period. This is an integrated, place-based economic transformation agenda which has as its starting point, a detailed analysis of the region’s assets and potential for future development.

Arlene Foster added: “Earlier this year, during a trade mission to Brazil I visited Porto Digital, the Federal University's Information Technology Center, where they have worked to develop a Smart Region. Porto Digital targets small and medium-sized businesses set up in the city of Recife and encourages them to work together to make their region better, stronger and smarter.

“There is no reason why the ‘smart’ concept cannot yield similar benefits for regions in Northern Ireland and I am pleased to be involved in the initiative shown by stakeholders in Omagh and Fermanagh in bringing forward this pilot proposal.”

Notes to editors:

1. This pilot will help inform planning for EU part funding of projects under the new Investing in Growth and Jobs Structural Funds. 

2. It is proposed to use the Smart Region proposal in Fermanagh/Omagh as a pilot which also has the potential to inform how other sub-regions/Councils might identify strategic EU projects. 

3. The Fermanagh/Omagh area has been chosen for the pilot in response to their interest in exploring the concept of a Smart Region. 

4. The Data Analyst will be appointed by the end of October (for a period of approximately two years). They will focus on the Fermanagh/Omagh sub region and will collect, analyse and manage data to improve the ‘triple bottom line’ of economic, environmental and social impact. They will investigate, interrogate and collate databases for the region and identify trends, highlight gaps and generate relevant reports. 

5. The Data Analyst will be employed by Invest NI but broad direction and task orientation will be driven by a Smart Region Project Board which includes DETI, Invest NI, local stakeholders and private sector influencers. 

6. The project will involve a thorough assessment of the region’s assets, including; natural resources, physical capital, financial capital, institutional capital, knowledge capital, human capital, and culture capital. Thriving regions have a balance of these key components. 

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