Adelaide’s The Depot

20 February 2014 — Adelaide has the opportunity to be a globally competitive and desirable city to live and work if it focuses on newly emerging industries and curating an entrepreneurial spirit, according to recently formed advocacy body Committee for Adelaide.

The committee was formed midway through last year with a board made up of local business and NGO leaders, consultants, entrepreneurs, media identities and academics passionate about Adelaide.

The committee formally launched at the end of last year with a report: Earning Our Place in a Global Economy, which found that Adelaide had the potential to become a leading global city, but was being ”squeezed out of the competition for the talented people, growth and capital we need”.

While Adelaide regularly tops lists of most liveable cities, it’s losing its youth and talent to the eastern states because of poor economic growth, the report said.

The three things identified by the committee as crucial to Adelaide’s development were:

  • attracting and retaining skilled, talented, creative, entrepreneurial people
  • attracting and growing business activity in new public companies, family businesses and new micro enterprise to build sustainable local employment
  • attracting capital investment to make possible the things that make life better

Stopping the brain drain

Stopping the talent drain was a key way to rectify Adelaide’s woes, the report stated.

According to the report, in the decade from 1999-2009, Adelaide experienced a net loss of 32,000 people. These were “young, well educated” people – half between 20-39 – leaving for the employment opportunities of the eastern states.

“This cohort represents the skilled knowledge workers essential to transition our economy from its agricultural and manufacturing past, to the knowledge-intensive, R&D-rich, value-added economy where growth is highest,” the report stated.

For people to stay, the report said, they needed a thriving labour market.

Key to this was growing Adelaide’s “strong suit”: professional services, smart construction, advanced manufacturing, and medical and bio-medical research.

Fixing transport issues

Where industries were located, and how they were connected to people, was a key element in raising productivity and contributions to the economy. In this regard, Adelaide’s transport system was not up to scratch.

In the 2013 State of Australian Cities report, it was found that Adelaide drivers experienced 28 per cent longer travel times than other cities, with morning peak drivers experiencing 50 per cent longer travel times and evening peak drivers experiencing 45 per cent longer travel times.

Transport efficiency has been identified by Curtin University researcher and The Fifth Estate contributor Jemma Green as crucial to competing in a global economy.

“A poor transport network places barriers of cost, time and convenience in the way of people finding work, and businesses finding the right people,” the report stated.

This has also recently been backed up by Grattan Institute research on productive cities.

Increasing business activity

Keys to this were:

  • growing the number of publicly listed companies headquartered in Adelaide
  • sustaining and growing family run businesses that employ 55 per cent of private sector workers
  • support for technology-driven micro-enterprise sector, where two thirds of new jobs come from

The committee recommended a range of financial and non-financial incentives, though said that it shouldn’t “get in to a beauty contest to attract businesses here on unsustainable subsidies”.

Capital growth

“South Australia needs new sources of capital to fuel the enterprise that drives growth,” the report stated. This would “attract the bright minds and enable innovation”.

It noted that the 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide projected the need for 258,000 additional homes to accommodate 560,000 new people with economic growth of $127.7 billion and the creation of 282,000 additional jobs.

“Along with good planning, clever design and quality construction, alternative models of financing will be needed,” the report stated.

“Attracting private finance for public infrastructure requires a learning environment trialling and perfecting alternative procurement models to those we have relied on to deliver infrastructure from public funds in the past.”

It said that Adelaide was currently falling behind other cities in designing effective and balanced public–private partnerships, private finance initiatives and other innovative forms of delivery.

“We must convince the private finance market that we are a safe pair of hands,” the report stated.

The good with the bad

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, with the report illustration “10 good things” happening in the city currently to “show that Adelaide can compete both nationally and internationally”. These include:

Unleashed: A government competition where application developers, visualisation and user experience professionals use open government data to “create new mashups, data visualisations and apps” to benefit the community. The competition runs from 11-13 July.

Brand South Australia: The Economic Development Board’s work to promote the state as open, contemporary and creative.

Social impact bonds: a newly emerging collaborative model involving funding community services through partnerships between governments, non-government organisations and private investors.

Health R&D: Infrastructure for nano and biomedical research and health, like the SAHMRI.

Investment in placemaking: An example includes the Greater Riverbank precinct, which brings sport, entertainment, culture and environment to the River Torrens.

The emergence of hubs: new talent being supported through ventures such as Majoran Distillery, The Mill, Hub Adelaide, Format and the new Creative Hub for the arts.

Read the committee’s full report.