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Queensland: ready and waiting

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ITS celebrated lifestyle draws tens of thousands of migrants to Queensland every year.

The general consensus: Queensland is all about crystal waters, surfing golden beaches and bushwalking in subtropical rainforests.

Add to that a low cost of living.

Driven by booming population growth – by far the fastest in Australia, the last census predicted the population to top 4 million at the end of 2005 –the state has grown, in business terms, into a relatively content, versatile and skilled labour force.

Queensland is predicted to replace Victoria as the nation’s second most populous state within 20 years.

Once you start increasing with those sorts of numbers, the food industry has to see the ready labour force, freighting benefits, an increasingly confident export base and the state’s economic environment – including tax and property incentives – as a potentially huge factor in its business.

Investment support

The state has been extremely proactive in supporting investment.

While Queensland’s investment promotion agency Invest Queensland declined to speak to FOOD Magazine, needing a long lead-time for public comment, Gold Coast City Council councillor Jan Grewe spoke readily.

The Gold Coast is home to around 400 food manufacturers, and the council has set up an economic and major projects branch directorate that employs business development officers to assist firms considering a move to the Gold Coast.

The team recently worked with Visy to ease the way for a $74 million corrugated board factory in the Brisbane-Gold Coast corridor due to be opened in late 2006.

“Our business development officers are very experienced,” said Grewe, chairperson of the council’s economic development committee, “so they can give [potential business migrants] information on state or federal government grants that might assist them.

“We can help streamline their application, and give new businesses the opportunity to talk to companies already operating in the area to find out what it’s like.”

Grewe said the council attends (and assists local businesses to attend) Australian and international trade fairs.

Multinational food processing and packaging equipment systems manufacturer Heat and Control (H&C) exports to a broad international market from its Australian base in Brisbane.

H&C Oceania sales manager Greg Pyne said the approach and support given by local government in Queensland is a key attraction for businesses, whether it’s in award ceremonies, export-support or touring delegations hosted by the State Government.

“We get a few of those coming through our facility here, overseas delegations looking into their various particular markets – Chinese and British recently – we do see a follow-on in terms of opening doors and raising our profile.”

Heat and Control recently expanded its business in Queensland with another bay at the manufacturing facility, a new laser cutter, a 400 tonne brake press and upgraded offices, which Pyne said represented “literally millions of dollars worth of investment.”

Small to medium

Large firms continue to relocate to the Gold Coast – Fosters , VIP Pet Food and Strapco have all set up large facilities at the Gold Coast’s northerly Yatala enterprise area – but much of the city’s growth has been in small to medium size enterprises (SMEs).

The State Government faces criticism in some quarters for a perceived imbalance in support for larger businesses.

“Certainly Victoria and Western Australia are more aggressive in their support for small business trying to export and take a true manufacturing position,” said Mobicon national sales manager Roger Vale.

“I think Queensland is more driven with some of the big picture stuff – the Boeings, the corporate relocations to Brisbane, rather than some of the small struggling companies that have been out there for years trying to make a dollar.”

The fact is, despite their size, many of these SMEs are exporting interstate and internationally, and more than ever they are relocating to Queensland.

“I think they come here because they still have the ability to set up a business here with reasonably little fuss and they don’t have to drive a long distance to go to their business,” said Grewe.

“There’s a great opportunity because we still have ‘green fields’ sites, we’re not totally built out as some of the other cities are.”

H&C’s Pyne said unemployment is quite low compared with other states.

“That’s something that we’re all fairly proud of here.

“There’s a good pool of resources readily available and we’re seeing a lot of highly skilled labour moving into this area.”

Entrepeneur’s long tail

While Queensland isn’t alone in fostering entrepreneurial activities, it has proven a particularly attractive destination for business start-ups, and if people are moving to Queensland, then they have to eat.

If they set up businesses in the state, then they need equipment for their factories, they need raw materials, they need skilled staff for their production lines, and they need packaging for their products.

This is the long tail of Queensland’s explosive growth – the attraction for many firms now is meeting the demands of that rush of entrepreneurs to the state.

“If they’re manufacturing something, then we get something,” said Strap and Wrap director Bob Yarbrough.

S&W generally deals with larger businesses, packaging brick, timber, steel, concrete and export meat, which are not the kind of businesses that people start overnight, according to Yarbrough.

Still, no matter what you manufacture, it has to be packaged in some form.

“It may not be directly with the packaging of that product,” he said, “but the packaging of the product they use.

“For example, there’s a company up here named Logan Moulders that makes plastic bottles for milk and orange juice.

“They have increased their business with us as a direct flow-on from their manufacturing business increasing.”

Keeping up

As ‘sea-changers’ – both residential and commercial – migrate to southeast Queensland’s Sunshine and Gold Coasts, major infrastructure including water, roads, electricity and education has struggled to keep up.

The state’s budget is under increasing stress, despite a strong economy; in fact, the situation convinced Premier Beattie to state, “The biggest challenge I face every day is the challenge of growth - it’s a huge problem for us.”

Some of the pressures are more typical though.

Mobicon’s Roger Vale said despite the population growth, Queensland still struggles for the main trades like the rest of Australia.

“When the average age of truck drivers in Australia is 49 years of age, we have some real basic problems,” said Vale.

“Trying to get boilermakers is a common problem around the country and he who has the biggest chequebook wins.

“From a manufacturing base when you’re trying to compete on a global marketplace you can’t compete with the mining industry where the cost of labour is a relatively small component in their overall costs.”

However, exporting from Brisbane is getting easier.

There are few reports of labour disputes disrupting freighting of products and the Brisbane Port Authority is increasingly active, especially in the new port facilities at Fisherman Island.

“The port and airport in Brisbane are now linked quite strategically to direct overseas flights and direct overseas shipping, so we don’t really perceive ourselves to be disadvantaged by not being in Melbourne or Sydney,” Vale said.

S&W’s Yarbrough argued freighting from Queensland is actually getting cheaper because of ‘backloading’.

“You see, because your main centres are Melbourne and Sydney, when they get up here, they’re all looking for loads to go back, so in some cases, it’s half the price.”

In fact, Yarbrough said S&W actually import products to Melbourne via Brisbane because it’s cheaper than importing direct to Melbourne.

Naturally Queensland

The sugar and beef industries are bigger in Queensland than the rest of the country.

With sugar prices increasing, and set to skyrocket if ethanol use predictions eventuate, proximity is a big issue.

It’s supply and demand for the food industry and in Queensland the quality of both is better.

There are plenty more reasons to choose the pointy end of the country.

You can spray-paint just about all the year around because of the great weather; you don’t need heaters or overlights in your workshop, labour rates are cheaper, rental too.

As the Councillor Grewe said, “People like to be here.

“That really helps to sell this place.”

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