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What business could Canberra develop?

By 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?

What’s Your opinion?


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29 Responses to
What business could Canberra develop?
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 7:19 pm 14 Aug 13

Pet food cannery.

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™ 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 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 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.

neanderthalsis 4:30 pm 14 Aug 13

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

beardedclam 3:07 pm 14 Aug 13

arescarti42 said :

It’d have to be a high skill/tech/knowledge industry as Canberra doesn’t have the same access to labour markets, ports, and ready consumer base to compete with bigger coastal cities.

What Canberra should be able to do is compete on cost of land/housing. We don’t have the geographical constraints that the likes of Sydney suffer from, and we have shedloads of unused land.

Instead we’ve managed to create a country town with the living costs of a world city.

One of the reasons why the US is such a hotbed for high tech start ups is that those running them can survive on next to nothing for a few years whilst they put all their resources in to setting up their business.

Good luck doing that in a place like Canberra.

Yes, just ask the people of Canberra if they would like it carved up and sold. Community outrage for even suggesting developing unused land. I think it should happen, but won’t.

Solar kings are born down Royalla way,
progress cant occur, status quo must remain.
This old bus cant leave the route, no never.
Our people just want to better ourselves, we are quite clever.

“Cant allow it” are the calls from the foundations,
in return you should hear “come on people, let us lead our nation,
there are many here that are capable of change”,
just a few little things that could be re arranged.

An amendment, a Bill, an idea or a Plan
It’s not “We Can’t”, maybe believe “We can”.
So many Canberrans with amazing minds,
outside ACTGOV’s magical Nine.

The people are the key that live in this place,
all just little samples of the human race.
So much potential for our Nation’s Capital City,
For it all to be wasted would be such a pity.

A couple of world class Uni’s have we,
Should a Brumby appear as ones main priority?
The tools are here and ready to go,
Off to China to ensure it remains so.

Science, Education, IT and porn
Is that why we cop the nations scorn,
so much more than what others see,
so what lies ahead for you and for me?

That I dont know, what could it be?
Looks like we cant rely on our SME,
Help must arrive, let me rub on my chin,
“the answer to this must come from within”.

arescarti42 12:48 pm 14 Aug 13

It’d have to be a high skill/tech/knowledge industry as Canberra doesn’t have the same access to labour markets, ports, and ready consumer base to compete with bigger coastal cities.

What Canberra should be able to do is compete on cost of land/housing. We don’t have the geographical constraints that the likes of Sydney suffer from, and we have shedloads of unused land.

Instead we’ve managed to create a country town with the living costs of a world city.

One of the reasons why the US is such a hotbed for high tech start ups is that those running them can survive on next to nothing for a few years whilst they put all their resources in to setting up their business.

Good luck doing that in a place like Canberra.

switch 12:46 pm 14 Aug 13

dtc said :

what was that place in SA?

Multi-Function-Polis (MFP).

dtc 12:34 pm 14 Aug 13

Cuts to the APS do not necessarily result in loss of jobs in Canberra. Its only if there are cuts to programs that there is a loss of jobs; otherwise the work still needs to be done. This is something that the politicians either turn a blind eye to or know, but believe that cuts in APS job numbers is a good selling point and that the cost of consultants etc is something that doesnt attract attention.

That said, I agree that Canberra should be focused on high skill service/development industries. Why not see if we can get an incubator area, maybe with tax incentives – I know this has all be thought of before without success (what was that place in SA?), but Canberra really is uniquely placed to offer the skills required and Sydney, for a start, is starting to become a difficult place to live in.

Eb_Flow 12:00 pm 14 Aug 13

If Canberra gets desperate for jobs, it could become Sydney’s second international airport and encourage tourists to stay a while before catching the slow and scenic train to Sydney.

Then the No Entry sign at Ginninderra Falls could be marketed as an iconic, ironic photo op 😉

HiddenDragon 11:42 am 14 Aug 13

Whatever the official figures may say, I think Canberra is destined to become even more of a company town than it already is, with very little private sector activity which does not relate, in one way or another, to the federal or local government. As I see it, we are locked in as a very high cost location with expensive real estate, labor, and a rolled-gold local government, determined to turn boom-time revenues into permanent revenues through the shift from stamp duty to land tax/rates.

If there are silver linings in the gathering clouds, I suspect they will be reaped across the border, in neighbouring NSW.

Our best hope is for Abbott to be a timid oncer, and for the China boom to last longer than Kev suggests it will.

Deref 11:05 am 14 Aug 13

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.

Canberra’s ideally situated to be a centre of education and research, particularly in the sciences. What a tragedy and travesty that we waste so much time, effort and money on subsidising the sport industry; imagine what we could do if all that was directed to our public schools and universities and towards building on those strengths.

FioBla 10:36 am 14 Aug 13

I remember a johnboy post earlier along the lines of—industries that have been “crowded out” by government spending will have a chance to develop after that slows. Sorry: this is a paraphrase, because I can’t search for the old post.

I’d like to believe this, but what examples of this ever happening, can someone point to? My personal experience is in towns in Tasmania, where, when a highway bypasses them, they whither away and slowly die. There, in the major cities (Hobart, Launceston), the public hospital and local tourism providers are the largest employers. On the northwest coast (Tassie, still), industry is moving away, with little to replace it.

My guess, is that Canberra will continue to play to its strengths, as a: university town, with foreign students, and research. As a place for Sydney-siders to stop on the way to the snow. The local nature reserves and rural leases could be used as sold as places for people to come over to experience “nature” I guess—fitness boot camps, or camping, guided tours etc. My opinion is that the recent cuts in the science budget (when Gillard was looking for a surplus) hurt local research quite a bit. Inversely, investment in “science” should help Canberra as well, preventing the local population from going elsewhere. Just my 2¢, but without the Federal Government, Canberra is little different from e.g. Goulburn or Yass.

Anyway, I’m keen to read input from others who know Canberra more than I do.

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