Reimagining Regional Manufacturing Innovation – by Robert Masters

The growing dynamism of Australia’s regional cities has not been well recognised or appreciated. Here Robert Masters suggests linking regional manufacturing growth to the Modern Manufacturing Strategy through a campaign to highlight the regions.

Regional Australian manufacturers often underappreciated – yet they must play a key role in future if Australia is to be recognised as a high quality and sustainable manufacturing nation.

Reaching this status will not occur overnight. Nor will it occur without the manufacturers themselves combining and promoting this vision.

Yes, there is a need to identify roadblocks! Yes, there is a need for additional policies and incentives. But they should not delay the need to lift Australia’s lowly status of 23rd on the Global Innovation Index 2020.

The platform to achieve the needed change requires the four objectives of the Federal government’s $1.5b Modern Manufacturing Strategy announced last October to be expanded to address the ‘recognition’ element in the vision.

Four key elements need to combine in a national and global reimaging and awareness campaign:

  • Advanced manufacturing companies and their people
  • Cities and towns that are their ‘home’
  • Educational institutions that are providing the learning for career pathways
  • And an optimistic mindset highlighting opportunity for people and place.

There is a global stereotype of Australia as ‘relentless optimists’. We should harness that positive prejudice and showcase the pride and optimism people have in working in Australia’s manufacturing sector, the attractions of living in regional centres, and a commitment to bridge the education gap between education and industry.

The government has highlighted that despite world-class skills and incredible natural assets, manufacturing in Australia has stagnated.

It has highlighted also that there are not enough manufacturers scaling up in areas that provide good returns.

The government has put in place strategic initiatives to address these issues, along with the establishment of expert industry-led teams to develop road maps to identify and overcome ‘road blocks to growth’.

There is no doubt that these are necessary steps. But they should not overshadow, nor supersede all the current initiatives of innovative regional manufacturers, their cities and educational institutions. Nor should they delay the recognition that Australia and Australians are seeking to achieve with the manufacturing sector.

This is why the often-quoted statement that ‘reputations are earned, not given’ could not be more apt than at this moment for government’s strategy. In effect, ‘rubber needs to hit the road’.

This is where this reputation could be earned through a two-year reimaging campaign.

The campaign would bring together manufacturers in at least 25 leading regional Australian cities and towns promoting their products and services, with industry associations, local councils and academic institutions playing their part to highlight regional manufacturing.

The outcome would see a seven-fold benefit to the nation through:

  • global and community recognition of regional Australia (and its people) as a key to Australia being a highly skilled, innovative and advanced manufacturing nation
  • enhanced awareness, growth, learning and appreciation of the importance of manufacturing to Australia and the companies involved in it
  • support and advocacy for manufacturing in future government policies, strategies and initiatives
  • support and endorsement of the value of manufacturing to regional business growth, policies, towns and workforce
  • Local political understanding, support and endorsement of local manufacturing initiatives
  • Enhanced community wellbeing from education, industry, lifestyle and job growth
  • And people being engaged, recognising, promoting, optimistic and having pride in regional manufacturing and in their personal lives.

In short time, Australia would be recognised as a high quality, innovative and sustainable manufacturing nation.

Robert Masters for a former metropolitan newspaper political journalist with more than 30 years in counselling corporations and governments on communication strategies and risk and reputation management. He is a Life Fellow of the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

Picture: Robert Masters

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