Educating for Industrial Competitiveness and Rural Development
Stuart A. Rosenfeld
In 1988, Ireland's Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology1 (GMIT) and Connemara West, a rural community development organization in the village of Letterfrack, embarked on an innovative path to jointly establish and operate a furniture college for youth. The heady goals of this ambitious project were no less than to expand economic opportunities for youth, stimulate the local economy, and, by infusing creativity, design, and entrepreneurial energy into the industry through these young workers, invigorate the Irish furniture industry. Thus, the alliance represented lofty hopes for both the region and the Republic of Ireland.
Connemara, a scenic but remote area on the western side of county Galway, had virtually no industry and few job opportunities for its youth. The best hope for enterprising local youth was to migrate to Ireland's urban areas, where employment was expanding, fueled by an influx of foreign-owned branch plants. What led Connemara West and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology to believe that the furniture industry, which was not a strong or growing cluster in Ireland and not located in the vicinity of Letterfrack, could become a catalyst for economic development? What conditions led to this unlikely alliance, unlikely choice, and more unlikely national support, and what benefits have been realized during its first years of operation?