Local Enterprise Offices are now supporting more than 7,500 companies employing 35,000 people.

After what has been a challenging year for small businesses, the goal for 2021 is to support them in their recovery.

The network of offices helped support the creation of 5,585 jobs last year, although there was a net job loss of 1,494 among the portfolio of client companies.

LEOs helped thousands of business to move online or improve their existing online offering, which proved to be a vital resource for many businesses helping to reach their customers.

More than 13,000 Trading Online Vouchers were approved, up over 950% from 1,218 in 2019.

"It's probably one of the most positive aspects that came out of Covid because a lot of businesses hadn't an online presence prior to the pandemic," said Padraic McElwee, Chair of the Network of Local Enterprise Offices.

"The initial aim was really to help local people buy from local businesses but we got an added benefit in that many businesses realised there was a wider opportunity in export markets, and for a lot of people the global market is now becoming their local market."

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

The Local Enterprise Offices are now supporting 35,236 jobs across 7,529 companies.

2020 also saw the successful transition of 133 companies from the Local Enterprise Offices to Enterprise Ireland as they continue to scale and look to international markets.

The LEOs provided significant training and mentoring to small businesses in 2020 to help them navigate the particularly difficult trading environment created by Covid-19 and Brexit.

Last year, the Local Enterprise Offices trained over 77,000 entrepreneurs and business representatives, up from 37,000 the year previous. A total of 16,231 business people completed business mentoring assignments, up from 10,756 in 2019.

In 2020, over €22m was approved by Local Enterprise Offices to clients for projects across the year to help improve their businesses in a range of areas.

This figure was up from €20mn in 2019 and is the largest amount of approved funding by the Local Enterprise Offices to small businesses to date.

The focus is now on recovery.

Mr McElwee told business on Morning Ireland that its key role will be to assist businesses get back on their feet.

"With the support of the Department of Enterprise, Enterprise Ireland and local authorities, we are well positioned to build on the supports we delivered in 2020," he said.

"If you take for example online - businesses are online but we need to develop their skillset so that they can sell effectively and more importantly get back to profit making," he stated.

LEOs will continue to provide online training as well as one of its key supports, one to one mentorship.

"Our goal this year will be recovery, improved competitiveness and developing innovation among our many client enterprises."

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar said Local Enterprise Offices play a really important role in fostering enterprise across the country.

"In the face of unprecedented challenges, our LEOs managed to pivot and adapt quickly, to help their network of local businesses endure the crisis of the pandemic," Leo Varadkar said.

"When small businesses needed help more than ever, their virtual door was always open and they were able to train, fund and mentor more businesses last year than ever before," he added.

He said LEOs will be to the forefront as we rebuild after the pandemic.