It hasn’t been the easiest of times for the Geelong region with the closure of Ford Motor Company, but the once ‘smokestack’ manufacturing region has gone through a metamorphosis, evolving into an advanced and high tech sector perfect for the defence industry, according to CEO of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce Bernadette Uzelac.
Speaking to Defence Connect, Uzelac said the region has recognised its manufacturing heritage and transformed accordingly to adapt with the times.
"Geelong has always been a city of makers. We've had a very long history of engineering; Ford Motor Company, Alcoa, and so forth. We've had this history of innovation and making things," said Uzelac.
"We've now moved from that largely smokestack economy to an advanced manufacturing sector. Our manufacturing sector has really morphed into advanced and high tech."
Uzelac praised the region’s resilience and creativity, saying the future looks bright, with these qualities putting the region in a good position to successfully pursue more defence industry opportunities.
"Geelong, as I say, has always been a city of makers and innovators. We've had our fair share of knocks over the years, and I think as a result the city itself is very resilient and very innovative, very creative. That attracts like [companies]," Uzelac said.
"We have lots of businesses I guess that are attracted to that kind of environment. We've formed a lot of support and alliances in this region that really does support and embrace the start-up economy. Creative start-ups, IT, high tech, advanced manufacturing, they really get a good run in Geelong because there's a huge amount of interest and network around that."
Uzelac believes that these businesses are utilising a highly skilled and diverse work force in the Geelong region, skills that they will keep developing.
"Geelong has a very highly skilled work force. I think that's as a result of the changing dynamics and the diversification of our industry base over the years. Over the past 15 to 20 years or so we have really strongly diversified that base. We have a lot that we can be thankful to for some of our traditional industries like Ford, which originally, going right back I think to the 1920's, were manufacturing army tanks," Uzelac said.
"We've got that skill. We've got that expertise here, and it's in our DNA. It does attract a lot of people. We have that diversity of the industry base, and that draws the skills that are really essential in the 21st century, particularly when we're talking defence and technology."
These skills and expertise are already being used by different defence companies in the area, some of which are involved in mammoth projects like the Joint Strike Fighter program.
"We've got a number of different companies like Marand that's doing some work with [the] Joint Strike Fighter program. We've got a number of different companies like Air Radiators, Backwell IXL, Chemring, Winchester, all of those sorts of companies that have been building up quality expertise in their sector."
In what would be music to the ears of companies looking to set up a base in Australia, Uzelac emphasised one of the main reasons these companies have chosen to base themselves in Geelong – the financial advantages of doing business.
"[They’re] doing it from a base in Geelong, because of course Geelong has a lower cost of living, lower cost to do business, and that's something that has been quite an attractor for a lot of industry to actually come to Geelong and set up. We've been able to attract and retain many of those industries that have been able to grow off the back of that."
The Victorian region will be hoping to capitalise on the various defence projects recently acquired by state, including Rheinmetall Defence Australia's partnering with Nezkot for the LAND 400 project, the Defence Science and Technology Group collaboration with Grollo Aerospace and Latrobe city Council's establishment of the Aerospace Precinct.