What business could Canberra develop?

johnboy 14 August 2013 29

For the last decade the public service has priced other business out of the market here in Canberra.

Expensive real estate and the public service’s insanely generous pay and conditions for low level employees have meant if you didn’t already live here there was precious little reason to think about starting any business that didn’t have the Government as a customer.

But that is all, apparently, about to change.

Now we really don’t want a repeat of Energy Services Invironmental burning down wildly poisonous chemicals in the middle of the city on the back of lax regulation.

And government involvement in developing business too often involves the Minister trading away millions of public dollars in exchange for a rather good lunch and maybe a massage with a happy ending.

But do any readers have thoughts on what industries Canberra could develop based on local skills?

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29 Responses to What business could Canberra develop?
roryford roryford 6:27 pm 18 Aug 13

Thanks for the mention Ryoma. I try my best to tie together people who are already being innovative, starting companies or growing tech companies. One of my current side projects is to list how many tech startups and grownups there are in the region. These are companies who are developing technologies that can be exported outside the region or can service external markets from Canberra.

So far the list contains:

C-Metrics Pty Ltd
Rollercoaster Digital
Ideasol Australia
Capabiliti LMS
StageBitz Pty Ltd
Auraya Systems
TripleThink PL
Imagine Team Pty Ltd
Seeing Machines
Trade up
eMarking Assistant
Fat Zebra
Cloud Central
Nexus eWater
The Hot List
Cardboard Keep
Whale Hammer Games
Windlab Systems
Clik Clik
Perimeter Security Industries
Admin Bandit
Peereo Pty. Ltd.

If you are interested in more details about these companies look here:

If I missed one, you can add details here:

This is about one tech company per 10,000 people or so whereas Sydney is closer to one per 5,000. From what I can see, Canberra is really accelerating as a tech startup city though and we’re well on track towards a billion dollar local tech industry.

LSWCHP LSWCHP 9:59 pm 15 Aug 13

Christoph Zierholz said :

We’re looking to expand but ya’ all will need to help out and drink more Zierholz!!!!!

I can personally vouch that Christoph’s beer is among the best in the country, if not the world. Yet another example of leading edge industry here in Canberra, and I apologise for not mentioning his products in my original list.

Affirmative Action Man Affirmative Action Man 1:36 pm 15 Aug 13

How about a MUSEUM or HALL OF FAME OF DODGY POLITICIANS. We could start with Al Grassby, Dennis Stevenson, Max Ortmann, Peter Slipper etc etc

spinact spinact 11:34 am 15 Aug 13

Christoph Zierholz said :

We’re looking to expand but ya’ all will need to help out and drink more Zierholz!!!!!

Challenge accepted!

Christoph Zierholz Christoph Zierholz 9:37 am 15 Aug 13

We’re looking to expand but ya’ all will need to help out and drink more Zierholz!!!!!

switch switch 8:26 am 15 Aug 13

LSWCHP said :

High tech business has been growing gradually in the ACT for a long time, and I reckon that we’ll see a lot more of it in the years to come.

These things are all wonderful examples of high technology companies we should be proud of and encouraging. But also I reckon that we’ll see more of the government continuing to treat their breeding ponds (unis and CSIRO) as either cash cows or things only good for budget cuts for a long time to come, too.

LSWCHP LSWCHP 10:51 pm 14 Aug 13

How about building the worlds’s best phased array radar systems at CEA Technologies in Fyshwick?

Or the best computer vision systems money can buy at Seeing Machines in Acton?

Or remotely operated weapon stations out at EOS in Quangers?

And lets not forget Locata, who are providing non-GPS based centimeter level positioning systems to the USAF White Sands Missile range in New Mexico.

These businesses are already already here, right now, employing hundreds of people and bringing tens of millions of dollars annually into the local community.

My point is that we have a highly educated workforce supported by excellent academic institutions in the ANU and Canberra Uni. And we are already designing and manufacturing mind bogglingly brilliant things right here in Canberra that very few people know about.

High tech business has been growing gradually in the ACT for a long time, and I reckon that we’ll see a lot more of it in the years to come.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 10:30 pm 14 Aug 13

neanderthalsis said :

A factory that makes both smoke generators and mirrors as well as shag resistant wall lamps would do well in the local area.


“Compo shagger” as she is known in these parts, just got a mention on Wednesday Night Fever, so we’ve already got a government subsidised promo for those heavy duty lamps.

We’ll continue to be a theme park, but with a bit less money sloshing around.

farnarkler farnarkler 9:50 pm 14 Aug 13
Jethro Jethro 9:21 pm 14 Aug 13

Deref said :

FioBla said :

My guess, is that Canberra will continue to play to its strengths, as a: university town, with foreign students, and research.

investment in “science” should help Canberra as well

^^ Those.

Investment in science, education and R&D…. you are aware we are talking about an Abbott government here?

Personally, I think we should legalise weed and pull in the tourist dollars.

Doc Dogg Doc Dogg 8:59 pm 14 Aug 13

I’m not sure if it is just my imagination, but businesses these days seem to solely focus on extracting as much money out of their customers as possible in each transaction. When I walk into a shop these days I can feel the eyes of the sales staff scanning my wallet, salivating at the prospect of extracting the fat little notes from inside it.

I wanted to buy a wheel barrow the other day so I visited a few shops to see what they had that would suit my needs. The first question they all asked was “So what do you want to spend?”, not “So what are you going to be using it for?”. Plus the products they were selling were mediocre quality at best, just enough to get the job done a few times before it breaks and you need to go back and buy another (usually the more expensive one in hopes that one lasts a bit longer).

It is the same with trades and other services, they want maximum dollars for the least amount of service they can get away with. I’ve become a DIY person now, not because I enjoy it, but because it is the only way of getting a decent job done without paying ludicrous amounts of money. Sure I may break a few things and make some wonky cuts that a pro wouldn’t have done, but I can afford to fix the mistakes and still have money spare.

Added onto all of that I’m a bit worried about where the future is headed. Sure I could go out and update my wardrobe or buy a bigger TV, but what good is that if I can’t afford to put food on the table or can’t afford a table at all in the future. I’d rather spend my money wisely on the things I need and save the rest for when I need it.

cranky cranky 8:08 pm 14 Aug 13

CraigT said :

Pet food cannery.

Love it.

Two areas that the current ACT Gov totally oppose.

A small aviation airstrip to be located in the south of the ACT. To provide maintenance to small aircraft, and to provide pilot training. Both maintenance and pilot training are palmed off to various locations, being anywhere BUT Canberra. Why?

Any form of motorsport facility. Canberra has become known through motoring media as a centre of excellence for its motorsport engineering. Were this small industry given a central location to mix and feed off each others talents, with appropriate circuit/tarmac, we could well have an industry that could emulate (on a miniature scale), the British experience that now generates billions of pounds income for the country.

It would be interesting to get a down to earth answer from our overlords as to why these proposals can never be engaged.

switch switch 8:04 pm 14 Aug 13

CraigT said :

Pet food cannery.

Can’t, we already shot all the kangaroos.

artuoui artuoui 7:58 pm 14 Aug 13

Fireworks stalls used to do quite a bit of business.

damien haas damien haas 7:31 pm 14 Aug 13

switch said :

dtc said :

what was that place in SA?

Multi-Function-Polis (MFP).

If you read the Hansard of the first Assembly there is quite a bit of discussion about setting up a then modish Multi Function Polis in Canberra. I believe a high tech park over in the Symonston area eventuated.

CraigT CraigT 7:19 pm 14 Aug 13

Pet food cannery.

milkman milkman 7:06 pm 14 Aug 13

Education, professional consulting (to government), industry think-tanks, technology start-ups (supported partly by govt), gourmet food, wilderness adventure tourism, specialist plant nurseries, wineries, distilleries, breweries, the list goes on.

It’s hard for start ups here to get funding, though, and it can be expensive to live.

c_c™ c_c™ 5:43 pm 14 Aug 13

I do recall seeing a legit government report from the 90s that put forestry, porn and education as the three largest export earners for the ACT – that’s a starting point. And given how many cashed up international students are tearing around the ANU campus in beamers, lexi and mercs, I think there’s still some money to wring out of one of those sectors.

Deref Deref 5:09 pm 14 Aug 13

neanderthalsis said :

A factory that makes both smoke generators and mirrors as well as shag resistant wall lamps would do well in the local area.

😀 Gold!

Ryoma Ryoma 4:35 pm 14 Aug 13

I enjoyed your poem, beardedclam 🙂

Rory Ford is trying to make a difference: http://www.roryford.com/

As to my own opinion, I think there’s a lot to it. As mentioned, we are a high cost location, and that’s unlikely to change. As such, it rules out labour-intensive industries. It’s also been mentioned that we need to look at brain-intensive industries, so we are actually looking at human capital.

Given the amount of population turnover (especially for those under 30), we need to think about what types of people would be attracted to, and stay, in Canberra. If we can get this right, then I think we have the seeds to do better in future.

Allegedly, many people are attracted here as a good place to bring up a family, but that brings a set of assumptions with it (and bear with me, I am going to generalise here; I am well aware many of my own assumptions could be wrong).

1) People with families are looking for stability; they want to know that there will be work available for long enough to put the kiddlywinks through at least one stage of school.
2) Given that these people are trying to build future wealth, many of them would perhaps prefer to buy housing rather than rent it, given how tight the rental market is at present. So, again, stable, long-term work would help.
3) We do not have the urban dynamism of larger cities, and even if we do get it, it’s not going to be on the same scale. So, we need to appeal to people who are interested in what Canberra does have to offer; good food and wine, plenty of open space, and skifields not far away.

That’s the people side of things. To make it work, maybe we need to actually target ourselves not to the hordes from Western Sydney, but people from cities of a similar size overseas; on the assumption that perhaps the things which attract people to places like Edinburgh, Kobe, Penang, and other cities around that population level are choosing to live there for similar reasons to why people choose to live in Canberra.

Industry-wise; given we have a colder climate relative to other cities, are there manufacturing processes that need that level of chill? The same goes for agriculture – but maybe, rather than large scale broadacre farming (in due of land costs), we need to be looking at high-value produce in greenhouses. And maybe the real “killer app” in this is around biotechnology, rather than growing for food.

Now that we have a large dam, could we (carefully, sustainably, allowing for years of drought) develop based upon industries that need very cold, fresh water? Aquaculture comes to mind, as does whisky. Both, again, could have a research side to them.

Maybe the main thing is to shift the way we see Canberra, and a direction I’d like the city to move in, is to think of itself as like a modern variation of Kyoto; where the focus is upon quality of life, and not competing head-to-head with other cities.

I’m not suggesting that we go Japanese-style (although I’d love to see it!), but that we pay far more attention to our architecture and appearance. Could we make much better use of our spaces, and have more developments that are used 16 hours a day, rather than merely 8-10, and used for more than just eating and drinking? Are there industries that work in shifts which require office space within an urban setting?

I think we have a strong arts sector, but much of it appears to be aimed at a subset of the population. Even if it’s not meant that way, I cannot (for example) remember the last time I saw anything “cultural” up my way in the far north of the city (cue subtle jibes at Gungahlin and surrounds :D). So, if 90% of Canberrans don’t have this stuff in their path during daily life, it’s unsurprising that they don’t necessarily think of our city as being culutural/artistic/creative.

Having said all that, I think we could do really well as hub of design of all sorts/fashion/architecture and “beauty” in its broadest sense. It just requires a critical mass to get rolling, and a plan on how to get there.

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