News and published articles in 2017 and 2016

  • Thank you for your feedback

    Wednesday, 13 December, 2017

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    At our last Newcastle economic breakfast we asked for feedback on our quarterly economic indicators research program and the data captured in our presentations.

    Thank you for the input, those 83 of you who completed our survey at the last breakfast assessing which Pulse Survey data you value and how often you want the surveys conducted. The response appears to be that you want it all, and you appreciate having it surveyed quarterly.

    We appreciate the moral support for the HRF’s work historically in gathering and analysing this data. However, financial constraints dictate some economising. The Centre expends a significant portion of its budget on the survey element alone, not even counting the analysis.

    We have consulted with knowledgeable local figures in the business arena on where to pare back. They have identified areas where quarterly surveys could be replaced by twice-yearly surveys due to the time horizon of business decisions.

    HRF Centre staff in the new year will compare charts of historical data at quarterly, twice-yearly, and annual increments to determine the extent to which inferences from the data might differ. For example, would a look at consumer confidence each quarter differ from data points on consumer confidence in March and August only? We will also evaluate national data sources to assess where they parallel – or reflect in a predictable way (e.g., higher or lower) – historical data for the Hunter.

    We will keep you in the loop on this assessment. We welcome specific input that could assist our decision. Thank you again for the survey feedback. Congratulations to the winner of our complimentary table in 2018, Lachlan Page from Mullane Lindsay.

    To provide additional feedback, contact the HRF Centre.

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  • Fostering international links

    Wednesday, 13 December, 2017

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    The HRF Centre recently hosted a visit to Newcastle by the Deputy Secretary of the State of Pennsylvania, Mr Joe Burke. Burke’s role is to stimulate economic development in Pennsylvania, particularly through relationships with overseas businesses and investors.

    The visit was organised Mr Adrian Price, Regional Manager for the Hunter, Central Coast and Northern NSW for the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group). It built on a number of regional links with Pennsylvania forged in recent years.

    Price said that areas of Pennsylvania and the Hunter are both transforming from ‘rust-belt’ regions to modern diverse economies. He welcomed the opportunity to learn from the experiences of Pennsylvania, which he said was a ‘few years ahead’ of the Hunter in its economic transformation.

    Burke’s focus is international business development for Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development. He said that international collaboration was an important contributor to the success of Pennsylvania, which he ranked among the top 20 economies in the world. He outlined a number of investment opportunities, and avenues for cooperation, between Hunter businesses and educational institutions. He highlighted high tech, medical and pharmaceutical areas as well as more traditional manufacturing and agriculture. He noted that Pennsylvania is within a day’s drive of a proportion of the US and Canadian markets.

    Director of the HRF Centre, Professor Will Rifkin, welcomed Burke, on behalf of the University to its new city campus. He underlined Newcastle’s parallels with Pittsburgh, as a rust-belt city that is remaking itself. He also pointed to Pennsylvania’s mining and natural gas resource regions, which may have lessons for the Hunter Valley, given its endowment of coal, alongside racehorse studs and winegrowing.

    Deputy Mayor, Cr Declan Clausen, welcomed Burke on behalf of the City of Newcastle. Also presenting for Burke at the 8 December meeting were:

    • Associate Professor Craig Wheeler, Assistant Dean, Community Relations and Marketing in UON’s Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, who provided an overview of engineering and teaching and research opportunities;
    • Malcolm St Hill, Business Development Manager for the NSW Government’s Office of Regional Development;
    • Karen Humphries, Head of Skills Point for Innovative Manufacturing, Robotics and Science for TAFE NSW; and
    • Nathanial Bavinton, Smart City Coordinator, Newcastle City Council.

    Representatives from a range of Hunter businesses attended the meeting, as well, with a number of ongoing enquiries established. Burke appeared to take particular interest in the range of expertise in the University’s faculty of engineering.

    Past connections with Pennsylvania have focused on the former steel-making city of Pittsburgh. In 2014, the reforming mayor of Pittsburgh, Tom Murphy, was a University of Newcastle (UON) President's Visiting Fellow.He delivered major public talks in Sydney and Newcastle on the topic of 'Building 21st Century Cities'. Murphy, who was Mayor from 1994-2006, has been recognised as one of the world's leading advocates for 'liveable cities'.

    Price had also facilitated a Hunter Trade Mission to Pittsburgh in 2015. The delegation of manufacturing, university and city representatives included Professor Kevin Hall, UON’s Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation).

    The HRF Centre sees hosting international representatives seeking to build connections in the region as a good fit with the Centre’s mission. We are happy to host meetings with international visitors, and we welcome the opportunity to refine the ‘pitch’ that characterises Newcastle and the region by providing cogent and understandable data on the economic context and trends. Such information can give businesses more certainty when considering investment in the region.

    Contact the HRF Centre for information about facilitating your high-level meetings. Read AiGroup's report on the visit.

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  • Digital technology key to productivity gains

    Wednesday, 13 December, 2017

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    Slowing growth of multi-factor productivity is a concern for the Australian economy. Multi-factor productivity is a measure of the synergies between inputs of labour and capital that drive economic growth.

    Multi-factor productivity can grow through effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Digitally mature businesses are more productive and competitive than firms that make relatively basic use of ICT.

    The HRF Centre’s Pulse survey gauges Hunter businesses’ use of ICTs annually. The surveys reveal that Hunter businesses have increased their uptake of digital technologies since 2014. That includes having a dedicated website and taking orders online.

    Sixty per cent of the region’s businesses used social media to advertise their business in 2017, outperforming SMEs nationally.

    While 83 per cent of Hunter consumers purchased goods and services online in the last year, only 22 per cent of businesses report accepting online payments.

    Download the HRF Centre’s 2017 Hunter Businesses and Digital Technology.

    Dr Anthea Bill, HRF Centre

    This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on 5 December

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  • Growing smarter - a focus for the city and region

    Wednesday, 13 December, 2017

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    Greater Newcastle (GN) is growing, but does it have what it takes to become a global city?

    Census data shows a decline in the Hunter region’s rate of growth from 2011 to 2016. Employment growth reduced to 3.2 per cent in the period 2011-16, significantly lower than the 11.4 per cent growth in 2006-11.

    Of the 8,500 jobs added between 2006 and 2011, according to the Census, growth was strongest in health care and social assistance, adding 6,500 jobs. Also growing strongly were construction, education and training, and accommodation and food services. Nationally and within the region, job gains in health and education have been driven by demographic factors, specifically, growing demand. Job growth in construction has been supported by the housing and construction boom across many parts of the city as well as a climb in public infrastructure spending across NSW.

    However, manufacturing lost 8,900 jobs over the five-year period. Less substantial but still sizeable job losses also occurred in wholesale and retail trade.

    The Census shows employment growth had declined in both Newcastle and Lake Macquarie and in the remainder of the Hunter. The decline in employment growth was steeper in the Hunter balance (outside of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle) largely because the mining sector added far fewer new jobs than it had in the first part of the decade.

    This Census data was collected in August 2016. However, Labour Force Survey data suggests that the labour market has strengthened from August 2016. The Hunter’s unemployment rate fell from 7.7 to 5.5 per cent.

    Comparing Greater Metropolitan Sydney’s employment growth rates with the Hunter’s, between 2011 and 2016, reveals a deepening divide between metropolitan and regional Australia. Sydney’s employment grew by 10 per cent, three times faster than the Hunter’s, according to the Census.

    Greater Metropolitan Sydney also experienced job losses in manufacturing, but had employment gains across a greater number of industry sectors. The construction industry added the greatest number of jobs, followed by health and education.

    A notable difference was the growth in Sydney’s professional, technical and scientific sector. Employment in these knowledge-intensive domains was not a growth driver in the Hunter for the last five years. Growing this industry sector outside capital cities is a challenge. Typical hurdles include a region’s lower population and urban density, poorer infrastructure and amenity, fewer internationally syndicated firms, and less specialised labour markets.

    Population growth has fed the Sydney growth cycle, and its impressive employment gains. However, Sydney faces increased pressures, including congestion and housing affordability.Would Sydney’s growth have been achievable for the Hunter - or desirable, given spin-off effects on lifestyle and amenity?

    As part of the preparation for the recently released draft of the Greater Newcastle* Metropolitan Plan, the NSW Government consulted Professor Greg Clarke. A UK-based global cities expert, Professor Clarke provided insights from cities that are not trying to mirror established metropolises that operate as large corporate hubs. Clark referred to ‘new world cities’, which aim to pursue balanced growth that protects amenity and lifestyle. They have good connectivity, are talent-led, and specialise in industries that are globalising.

    The Hunter region is at a critical juncture, a time to debate about growth and our future.

    The HRF Centre aims to inform and report on these debates, and other critical economic issues. Our 2018 economic breakfasts will be under the over-arching theme, ‘Growing Smarter’. We hope that you will join us.

    Dr Anthea Bill, HRF Centre

    *Greater Newcastle (GN) comprises the Local Government Areas of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens, Cessnock, and Maitland.

    This opinion  piece appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 11 December.

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  • Business Back to Boom-time confidence levels

    Monday, 27 November, 2017

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    Businesses’ confidence in the Hunter economy has strengthened further in the September quarter. Confidence for the next quarter and year for businesses is back to a level not seen since the start of the mining investment boom of 2009-10.

    These results reflect the Hunter Research Foundation Centre’s latest Hunter Region Economic Indicators, to be released at the Hunter economic breakfast on Friday, 24 November.

    Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for the HRF Centre, said that levels of confidence in the regional economy had also improved for Hunter households. Optimistic households outnumbered pessimistic ones in the short-term outlook for the first time since 2011.

    “The biggest improvement was in the household sector’s confidence in the region’s economy, however businesses continue to have a more positive view of the region’s economic prospects than consumers,” Dr Bill said. “Optimism is likely due to improvements in the labour market, strong performance of the region’s housing market, and perhaps assisted by the recent rally in thermal coal markets.”

    Bill sounded a note of caution, despite the optimistic outlooks. “Household debt, underemployment, and a slowing of growth in residential construction and in house prices all pose challenges to the regional outlook in 2018.”

    Analysis of the economic results will be released at the Hunter Economic breakfast at Wests City on Friday 24 November. The breakfast features respected Comm Sec chief economist Craig James. The HRF Centre will release new survey data on Hunter businesses’ use of information and communication technology at the breakfast.

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  • Work experience positive for Jessica

    Monday, 20 November, 2017

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    I recently completed an eight-day work experience placement at the HRF Centre. I wanted to expand on the knowledge I had gained as part of a Certificate IV in Business qualification I am undertaking at TAFE NSW.

    The TAFE qualification has a strong focus on marketing and the research that goes in to plan and complete projects. I felt that work experience with the HRF Centre would complement my learning.

    I was asked to complete research to inform an upcoming HRF Centre project. While I mostly worked alone, the Centre staff regularly checked in on me. They helped me feel comfortable and a valued part of the team. My research taught me how much is involved in starting a new project at a business scale.

    I was also given several other tasks to complete, which gave me a better idea of the way a business runs day-to-day. I felt that I was contributing to the development and growth of the HRF Centre. I participated in planning meetings, checked that figures and data used in documentation were correct, provided advice on advertisement design, and analysed social media and website statistics.

    My work experience with the HRF Centre was positive. I learned a lot more than I was expecting to in a short work placement and thoroughly enjoyed working with the HRF Centre. I believe that HFR Centre and TAFE NSW benefit from providing work experience opportunities to business or research-based students.

    I will apply my new skills and knowledge while completing my studies and in my subsequent career. I hope to work in accounting, running my own business and helping other small businesses to start up and thrive.

    Jessica Heemskerk completed her work experience at HRF Centre in November

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