West Living Case Studies
Sligo Case Study: Justin Knecht
Justin Knecht was Senior Manager of Design Services at Crayola in Pensylvania in the USA before he and his family relocated to Sligo in 2006 to take up the position of Programme Manager at the Centre for Design Innovation at the Institute of Technology Sligo.
“The Centre in Sligo was established to help organisations in the Northwest region to innovate more effectively in order to grow their businesses. I concentrated on best practices of design management, developing programmes and workshops to train participating organisations.” Because of its location on the IT Sligo campus, the CDI collaborated on projects with faculty and staff at the IT. “This was a mutually beneficial relationship as we drew on college resources and I also worked with the IT on curriculum development, service design and branding”.
After working to establish the Centre for Design Innovation, Justin has moved on to start two businesses in the region. With Verticalbones Ltd., he continues to work with established companies and early-stage technology start-ups to use design for competitive advantage. “Here I am in the Northwest of Ireland, and in the past year I’ve worked throughout Ireland, the UK, and as far away as Estonia, Poland and South Korea.”
“There’s a great energy in the West, and Ireland in general, around technology start-ups. Personally, I find the work really rewarding in the West of Ireland as the regional market is less crowded by similar offerings of services. This means I can get more involved with each entrepreneur as their businesses grow and evolve”.
Justin’s second business might appear a bit more light-hearted, but he takes it just as seriously … finding the perfect pint of Guinness. Shortly after arriving in Sligo, Justin did a 30-day, 30-pub, 30-pint tour of the pubs around Sligo to find the best pint nearest to him. “Thankfully, it wasn’t that far. Just down the road in Geevagh.” The quest formed the inspiration for Perfectpints.com, a website and mobile application and iPhone app to help anyone, anywhere to find the perfect pint.
Justin started Perfectpints.com on the CEIM incubation programme, run by WestBIC and hosted at IT Sligo and LYIT. He also received a grant from the Sligo County Enterprise Board to help get the iPhone application developed. “There are excellent supports in the West if you have a business idea and want to get it off the ground.” Justin has found that there are numerous upskilling opportunities through a range of quality training events, speakers and workshops organised by the Sligo County Enterprise Board, Innovation Centre, BMW Regional Assembly and the Sligo Chamber of Commerce.
Justin has noticed major improvements in the regional infrastructure in recent years. “The road network suits my needs especially the Dublin road” and he adds “the rail network is great. The newer trains are more comfortable and I prefer taking the train to Dublin as it means I can work while I travel”. Justin lives just 45 minutes away from Ireland West Airport at Knock.
There is a large concentration of “creatives” in the Northwest and a very active County Council Arts Office in Sligo, where Justin currently sits on the Public Art Steering Committee. Centres like the Model in Sligo and the Dock in Carrick-in-Shannon offer great cultural programmes. The Boyle Arts Festival is also a key event in the artistic calendar and the Sligo-Leitrim area has a strong concentration of film professionals. Studio Northwest is a consortium of professional filmmakers, of which Knecht’s wife, L. Vandegrift Davala, is a member.
“Lisa is a professional artist and filmmaker. She used the counties of Sligo & Leitrim as a backdrop for her film, ‘…for peace comes dropping slow …’” L. Vandegrift Davala drew on the musical talent of the area, working with local musician, Seamie O’Dowd on the film’s soundtrack. The crew were sourced from the area, including a cast of Performing Arts students from IT Sligo, and three busloads of volunteer ‘lightwriters’. Connemara native, Cian de Buitléar provided the cinematography, and local photographer Darren Carr the stills. In fact, only the editor of the film was not from the West. The film was made with the support of the Yeatsian Legacy Project, delivered by Sligo Arts Service and its partners, and supported by the PEACE III Programme managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Sligo County Council on behalf of Sligo Peace and Reconciliation Partnership Committee and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government Per Cent For Art Scheme. The film has screened internationally at film festivals in Ireland, the UK and USA.
Justin and his family find living in the West of Ireland equally rewarding. “I had lived in urban environments in the States and had no interest in locating to Dublin” he said, “it was purely a quality a life decision for us to live in a rural area. In fact, we had planned to locate in Clare, where my wife has connections and had lived for 15 years, but the opportunity to develop the CDI brought us to Sligo – a move we are very happy with.”
“The move has brought us a number of advantages, such as less commuting time, cheaper living costs, cheaper house prices, smaller class sizes for my son who is 16, more time to spend with the family and overall a less stressful lifestyle.
“The whole reason for coming to Ireland was change of life, and as an American, I wanted to live in more of an ‘unspoilt’ landscape – and believe me, I have not been disappointed. I am astounded by the landscape and the ease of access to natural amenities. The area is less populated and congested. We are right beside the ocean and some of the best surfing in Europe, we have hiking on Knocknarea, great fishing lakes and the largest concentraion of archaeological monuments in Co. Sligo. Lisa benefits from locating her studio on the property and in this landscape”.
Justin and his family are delighted with the range of leisure or social amenities in their local area. “It is great just being able to drive 30 minutes to the beach on one day, and 25 minutes to take a hike up the mountain the next, or visit the cairns at Carrowkeel” he notes, “And the more you look, the more you find!”
When asked if he would recommend a move to the West of Ireland, Justin gives a resounding “yes - I look out the front window every morning and always consider how lucky I am”.
“The one thing I would say to people thinking of making the move is to check the availability of broadband before purchasing property if that is critical to facilitating you working from home. I recently got an upgrade to 10MB satellite service at the house, so perhaps it’s no longer an issue. It’s much pricier that other services, but critical to the home office and studio.”
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