In 1986, Ireland was in the depth of its worst economic crisis in generations. The unemployment rate stood at 17% nationally, tens of thousands of young people were emigrating and the debt to GDP ratio was above 100 per cent. In Wexford, the closure of the National Aluminium Manufacturing company, with the loss of 400 local jobs, spurred a community into action.
This action resulted in the formation of the Wexford Community Development Association Society Limited, now known as Wexford Enterprise Association or WEA. This independent, not-for-profit organisation began as a voluntary committee of local community, diocesan, local authority and business individuals, whose initial aim was to put supports in place to combat the high levels of unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation in Co. Wexford.
Wexford Enterprise Centre was conceived in 1986 and officially opened its doors in 1989 on the former National Aluminium Manufacturing site. One of the first Enterprise Centres of its kind in Ireland, it was created to meet the needs of individual, small and medium-sized businesses.
The premises were leased initially but were subsequently purchased in 1998. The facilities were modest and practical in the beginning, however in 31 short years, together with its strategic partners, Wexford Enterprise Centre has developed into a leading, purpose-built and professional business hub. It has assisted in the creation of over 2,000 jobs across 200-plus companies by providing hands-on business advice and mentoring by the organisation’s CEO and Board.
But the provision of workspace was just the beginning. Believing firmly in its ambitious mission statement and core values, WEA would go on to create a nationally recognised model comprising economic social enterprise, entrepreneurial development and social advancement programmes. It also successfully created direct employment and business expansion opportunities within its Datagroup and Recycling 2000 divisions. Working in close collaboration with key State Agencies, Public Bodies, and Stakeholder groups, WEA developed and rolled-out several innovative, regional initiatives, some of which would be adapted and replicated nationally and internationally.
WEA has stayed true to its social and job creation ethos and is a leader in commercialising social enterprise through its various local, national and international initiatives, all contributing to the betterment of Wexford’s society and economy.