Shannon’s Element Six traces its history back to South Africa in 1946. The company started out as De Beers, then under the leadership of Ernest Oppenheimer, who began using natural diamonds for industrial purposes. The discovery of synthetic diamond manufacturing in 1953 was a revolutionary development. By 1960, De Beers was producing synthetic diamonds in South Africa by a high pressure, high temperature process.
Just three years later the company built a $175m plant in Shannon, its first outside of South Africa. For 40 years the business thrived but by the new millennium De Beers dominant market position was being challenged. The company had to adjust and in 2002 De Beers Industrial Diamonds had rebranded to Element Six. Cost reduction measures were imposed at the Shannon plant but by the end of that decade, during a global recession, the company announced significant redundancies.
Thankfully Element Six has weathered the economic storm and is now emerging from what Ken Sullivan, executive director of operations in Shannon, described as “a very challenging period”. Speaking at the recent announcement of new investment, Mr Sullivan put the company’s Shannon staff at the centre of its success. Paying generous tribute, he said, “Our staff are our biggest asset, they are fantastic and we’ve come such a long way over the last six or seven years on this site and it’s all down to our people. Thank you for that.”
Commenting on the re-investment, Mr Sullivan said, “Element Six has a 60 year history at Shannon and this announcement very much signals that we have entered a new era in terms of our operations here. A strong spirit of partnership has sustained us through a very challenging period and we have emerged as one of the biggest and best employers in the Shannon region.”
Also present for the announcement was the company’s global CEO Walter Hühn who described the new investment as a “validation of the hard work of our management and staff here in turning the business around. Mr Hühn added, “Thanks to a culture of continuous improvement, the use of world-class manufacturing techniques and efficiency and quality gains, our Shannon operations have now taken on additional, global cutting-edge processes, leading to this investment and considerably enhanced employment levels.”
Striking a very positive note, he stated, “Oil and gas is a volatile industry but the improvements and investment here at Shannon ensures we are as future-proofed as possible going forward. A key influencer is the operating environment, which is considerably better now in Ireland. In return, we have invested heavily and created high-value jobs for the region.”
Minister for Employment and Small Business, Pat Breen, was delighted to welcome 100 new jobs to his Clare constituency. “This,” he said, “is a real vote of confidence in the region as a place to do business. It’s a recognition of the hard work and dedication by all the management and staff here. It’s great to see this facility go from strength to strength in just over four years since its recent difficulties.
Minister Breen added, “I believe the future is very bright for Shannon, particularly as a location for inward investment and it seems Element Six agrees with me because this is a very significant investment the company has announced here. I want to thank Walter Hühn, the CEO of Element Six, for his commitment, I know the competition to get these jobs was immense and to choose Shannon is fantastic and it’s great for us here in this region.
“In the last four years we have seen a big investment here of over €40 million and that’s fantastic. It’s no secret that back in 2009 such a success story could not have been predicted as this facility was on the brink of closure and we all feared that a very significant employer would be lost to Co. Clare. However, the combination of an improved operating environment, the commitment of management and staff and ongoing support by our agencies, the fortunes of Element Six in Shannon has been transformed.
“Operations at the company have been doubled since 2009 with over 550 people now in the workforce. I think that should be acknowledged. It’s a great example to me, as a Minister, of having the right policies, the plans and commitments in place.”
Minister Breen spoke of the challenges ahead with Brexit looming and said that all Government departments are working hard to ensure that the proper plans and policies are in place so that business and economy can survive Brexit. He added that it’s also important to grow business as well.
“Our Government’s preparations for Brexit are extensive. Significant planning has been done in all sectors including consultation with all the stakeholders and extensive engagements are taking place with ministerial colleagues. In the coming weeks both Minister O’Connor and myself are taking a tour of European capitals to ensure that our colleagues in the EU know exactly where Ireland stands on Brexit and that a deal is necessary for us to ensure continued growth in this country. This contact is also taking place at official and diplomatic levels, I want to make that quite clear, as a Government we are continuing to target the export market. We’re looking at places outside the UK and inside Europe.
There will be 40 more trade missions, many taking place within mainland Europe. We also want to ensure that we can continue to trade with our partners in the UK and build on success stories we have had in the past.
Despite IDA jobs in the Midwest growing to 6,600 by the end of 2015 and Enterprise Ireland up 6% in the region to 18,654 jobs last year, Minister Breen said no-one can afford to be complacent in relation to where we stand at the moment. “Certainly the Government is not complacent. We will launch the next Action Plan for Jobs, my department’s main policy for growing jobs in the country. We want to maintain the momentum over the last few years when we have created so many jobs and delivered the significant progress that we have had in relation to job creation.”
Describing the Midwest as the fastest growing region outside of Dublin, Minister Breen said, “we want to keep that momentum going. With announcements like Element Six it will keep that momentum going. We are committed to growing jobs, not just in Dublin, but in the regions as well as is evident in recent times.” He added, “We have identified the fact that we need to drive the recovery, not just in the regions, but in the counties and into various corners of Ireland. That’s why we launched the Action Plan for Rural Ireland which will create over 35,000 jobs by 2020.
“The IDA’s capital budget has also been increased this year by 22% to €137m, the largest increase in a decade. Enterprise Ireland’s capital budget has been increased as well and we have ensured that more staff will be allocated in challenging areas to ensure the IDA are on a par with any other world agency to attract industry into this country. Just as Element Six is committed to this region, the Government is committed to investing in jobs here as well,” he said.
The Minister thanked the IDA, represented at the event by Mary Buckley and Niall O’Callaghan, for its work in attracting new foreign direct investment (FDI) into the region. “Their efforts have been noted by IBM’s annual Global Location Trends report which ranked Ireland as the best country in the world for quality FDI in the last number of years.
“As well as attracting new companies into Ireland, it’s also important to work with existing companies to encourage them to stay with us for the long-haul, as is the case with Element Six which is here since 1961. I think everyone here knows somebody in every parish and every community that has worked in De Beers or Element Six throughout its long history in the region”.
Minister Breen pointed out that he was particularly impressed that Element Six decided to invest in manufacturing here at a time when manufacturing in general has been moving from Ireland to low-cost countries, resulting in the loss of over 50,000 jobs here during the recent recession.
Citing CSO data, he said four years ago there were 205,700 people working in manufacturing here, but that number has risen to 241,000 as a result of the right policies in place to ensure that manufacturing is kept in this country. Companies like Element Six have led the way by constantly investing in new technologies and looking at more efficient ways of making their products in this challenging environment.
Minister Breen concluded, “Ireland needs a vibrant manufacturing sector in towns around the country and this is a great example of this today. So I’d like to take this opportunity on behalf of the Government to congratulate this company, the management and staff. This is a great achievement and I want to say to all of you that I look forward to more announcements in the region so that we can continue the jobs growth that we have experienced in the Midwest over the last number of years.
“This is a very exiting time to be in this region with aviation, the airport and third level institutions, it’s all about putting everything together and ensuring that we continue to grow the Shannon Free Zone and bring it back to its former glory days of the past. Thank you.”