News and published articles in 2019 to 2016

  • Hunter economy softens – indicators released at breakfast

    Friday, 2 August, 2019

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    Business performance in the Hunter region softened dramatically in the first half of 2019.That is according to the latest Hunter Region Economic Indicators analysis, which was released at the Hunter Economic breakfast on 26 July.

    Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for Faculty’s Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre, presented her insights to an audience of 300 business leaders at the Newcastle event. Dr Bill says that business confidence in the health of the regional economy over the next 12 months improved slightly in the first half of 2019. This view follows a sharp downward trend in the second half of 2018, a correction following buoyant confidence in the preceding time period.

    Dr Bill's presentation included analysis of the latest Hunter regional data on the use by businesses of information and communication technology. Adoption continues to trend upward. In relation to certain technologies, this upswing corrects a period in previous years where the region lagged behind national averages for use of websites and social media, for example.

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  • Planning Minister to talk on vision for the Hunter

    Thursday, 18 July, 2019


    NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes will explore the opportunities and challenges ahead for the Hunter region in an exclusive event in Newcastle on Wednesday, 14 August.

    Mr Stokes will present on the theme The Hunter Ahead: Driving the Region’s Future at a dinner. The event will be jointly presented by the Hunter Business Chamber and Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre at NEX Newcastle.

    HRF Centre Director, Professor Will Rifkin, and Hunter Business Chamber CEO, Bob Hawes, agreed on the importance for the city and region to hear from, and respond to, an influential and respected NSW minister on key issues affecting the Hunter.

    “Greater Newcastle and the Hunter currently have an opportunity for economic growth and diversification, particularly with recent release of the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan and changes in the Sydney housing market. That makes this visit by the Minister particularly timely,” Professor Rifkin said.

    Mr Hawes noted that the jointly hosted event would continue the collaborative work the Chamber and the Centre have been doing to progress regional priorities.

    “The two organisations are leading partners in regional initiatives, such as the establishment of the Committee for the Hunter and the Second Cities Symposium,” Mr Hawes said.

    “Our events and forums aim to build knowledge, extend networks and share ideas. We invite people from across all sectors and interest groups to come along to this dinner to be informed, challenged, inspired and ‘connected’.”

    Tickets for the dinner are $150 per person or $1200 per table of eight. 

    Bookings can be made online at:

  • Great things happen when leaders align

    Wednesday, 10 July, 2019

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    Cities and regions where leaders collaborate, with a shared vision and an agreed set of priorities, attract major public and private investment, according to national and international evidence. Alignment among leaders across sectors ensures that advocacy on behalf of a city and region delivers economic and social benefits for the whole community and their enterprises.

    That is the opportunity for Greater Newcastle to benefit from growth and foster economic diversification. It requires collaboration among disparate stakeholders. A measure of cooperation is evident with the Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils and the new and evolving Committee for the Hunter.

    Cross-sector collaboration – and the ‘distributed leadership’ that can result – appears to begin with conversations, but people need to follow up with ongoing engagement and action. To provide scaffolding for such activity, the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre has been offering expert insight and facilitating initiatives under this year’s theme of ‘Collaboration and Vision’.

    The Centre’s March Hunter Economic breakfast featured former Tasmanian premier, the Hon. David Bartlett, discussing the ‘MONA effect’. The opening of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart in 2011 boosted tourism numbers and spawned or enhanced a range of other enterprises, breathing new life into Tasmania’s economy. Bartlett pointed to timing, underlying institutions and extraordinary individuals as contributing to MONA’s impact.

    “When MONA came along, we invested almost nothing. In fact, MONA would not have worked if it had relied upon Government money. However, we invested money in the Salamanca Markets and Arts Centre and in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. I believe that we ended up with something much bigger than the sum of its parts.”

    Bartlett also had the foresight, as Premier, to invest in supporting MONA Foma music festival, shortened to MoFo. The successful festival began two years before MONA opened and made sure the world was watching when it launched.

    An international case study in the development of a vibrant innovation ecosystem was the focus of our May breakfast, featuring Sander van Amelsvoort discussing Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Over two decades, Eindhoven transformed from a declining industrial base with high unemployment to be recognised as one of Europe’s most innovative regions.

    Eindhoven’s transformation relied on a ‘triple helix’ of university, business chamber and city council. Under their Brainport Next Generation strategy, Eindhoven are now moving away from the ‘triple helix’ model to embrace a ‘multi-helix’. “The days of successfully innovating by yourself are behind us – to keep up with the fast-moving developments, you have to innovate together with your suppliers, customers, and even your competitors”, stated Imke Carsouw, former Managing Director of Brainport Development.

    Lucy Turnbull AO, Chief Commissioner, Greater Sydney Commission, will share her experiences in creating consensus and effectively exerting influence around strategic initiatives at our next economic breakfast in July. She is a former Lord Mayor of Sydney, former Chair of theCommittee for Sydney, and former deputy chair of the COAG City Expert Advisory Panel – all roles requiring skill in collaboration and influence.

    Last year’s Second Cities Symposium highlighted trends and opportunities in urban and regional planning and development in second cities and their regions, showcasing successes and revealing their secrets. The symposium comprised 21 sessions, including a final segment to identify priorities for Greater Newcastle and the region. This year’s follow-up, again led by the HRF Centre, Smaller and Smarter Cities International Symposium, is scheduled for October.

    One priority from the 2018 symposium – identity and positioning of Greater Newcastle – was the focus of a workshop in March, co-facilitated by the HRF Centre and the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation. Fifty-one participants came from 33 organisations in the business sector, government, utilities, universities, schools and peak bodies. Nine local government areas were represented. A working group is now progressing participants’ recommendations.

    The challenge of identity and positioning for the region has been taken up by four teams of young professionals in the HunterNet Future Leaders program for this year, at the request of and supported by the HRF Centre.

    Collaboration was also cultivated in a workshop on development of the Committee for the Hunter, facilitated by the HRF Centre in June. More than 40 participants from 32 different organisations represented government, business, trade unions, and the arts and community sectors from Greater Newcastle to the Upper Hunter.

    So, there you have it – insights from experts, workshops, symposia, working parties, and projects to foster greater collaboration and to clarify a vision for the region. It has been a busy year, but the distributed leadership that seems to be emerging provides encouragement.

    This opinion piece by Professor Will Rifkin was published in the Newcastle Herald on 8 July 2019

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  • Connectivity and collaboration critical to regional innovation

    Wednesday, 12 June, 2019


    Innovation is becoming increasingly imperative for the Hunter's future prosperity.

    The Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre recently released its 2018 data on local business innovation. Every year since 2009, the HRF has asked 300 businesses whether they introduced new or significantly improved goods and services in the year prior. In 2018, 45 per cent of Hunter businesses said that they innovated, a figure on par with the national rate for 2016-17.

    The centre's time series shows a growing relationship between innovation and improved business performance. In 2009, there was virtually no difference between innovators and non-innovators in the share of firms reporting improved profitability. In 2018, however, firms who said that they were innovating were more likely than non-innovating firms to report that their profitability was increasing 'moderately or substantially'. Innovating firms were also more likely report they were hiring, exporting and experiencing improved trading performance.

    This trend is confirmed at the national level, with innovation-active firms more likely to report increases in sales, profitability, productivity and firm size, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data. Innovation is attributed with creating as much as 50 per cent of long-term economic growth of OECD member countries, and this contribution is expected to grow.

    Innovation sectors offer a competitive advantage internationally, such as a unique product or service that cannot easily be reproduced or outsourced. Improving the number and performance of exporters is critical to improving overall regional productivity, the UK Centre for Cities says. In 2018, while almost 60 per cent of Hunter businesses sell outside the region, only 15 per cent sell outside Australia. This proportion has remained more or less unchanged for a decade and a half. Hunter firms must enhance such global connections.

    The OECD identifies health and education, high and medium manufacturing, finance and insurance, telecommunication and business services as knowledge-intensive sectors. While employment in health and education grew strongly in the Hunter, there was minimal change in several key knowledge-intensive sectors from 2011 to 2016, Census of Population and Housing data shows. These low- or no- growth areas include professional, technical and scientific services, information, media and telecommunications, and finance and insurance services. These latter industries experienced stronger growth in Sydney and Melbourne.

    But recent ABS business counts show 'green shoots' in such segments. From 2015 to 2018, there was strong growth in information, telecommunications and media businesses and in businesses within professional, scientific and technical services in Newcastle (28 per cent) and Lake Macquarie (22 per cent) local government areas. These rates are well above the national growth rate of 9 per cent. ABS Labour Force Survey data also show a welcome resurgence of employment in manufacturing in the past year.

    Guest speaker at the Hunter Economic Breakfast, Sander van Amelsvoort, provided an international case study in the development of a vibrant innovation ecosystem in his home town of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Over two decades, it transformed, from a base of business failures and high unemployment to be recognised as one of Europe's most innovative regions. With only 4 per cent of the Netherlands population, Greater Eindhoven - now known as the 'Brainport' region - generates 44 per cent of the country's patents and 19 per cent of its private investment. 'Smart + Together = Strong' summarises the winning formula for Eindhoven, van Amelsvoort said.

    Collaboration within an innovation ecosystem yields payback for individual firms, including: spill-over of technology, knowledge, suppliers, markets and talent from other firms and industries.

    Eindhoven drove transformation thanks to combined efforts of three key regional organisations - a 'triple helix' of university, business chamber and city council. To optimise the triple helix model, a region such as the Hunter needs to focus its knowledge institutions, assets and resources.

    Research on regions that support innovation indicates that the Hunter should develop its innovation ecosystem to support entrepreneurs, start-ups and scale ups as well as to increase access to markets, talent and financial capital. A supportive, risk-taking culture and a favourable business climate are essential. Also required are anchor institutions like universities and medical centres, suitable digital and transport infrastructure, and built form that supports urban consolidation and mixed-use.

    Greater Newcastle already ticks the boxes with smart city elements, growth of the innovation network, and plans to expand port and airport capabilities, the university and health precincts. To attract corporate investment and the local talent that it requires, we must add strong, collaborative leadership to implement a common vision.

    Dr Anthea Bill, Lead Economist, HRF Centre

    This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on 12 June, 2019.

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  • Q&A: Sander Van Amelsvoort and Dr Anthea Bill

    Wednesday, 5 June, 2019


    This is an edited transcript of question time, which was moderated by Professor Will Rifkin, Director of the HRF Centre. It was recorded at the Hunter Economic breakfast in Newcastle on 16 May. 

    Q: What cultural or geographical factors do you think helped Eindhoven to use their crisis to its advantage whereas other communities haven’t?

    Sander Van Amelsvoort: In a country as small as the Netherlands, if you are not involved in trade and innovation, good luck to you. Cultural and geographical factors are big determinants in this context. I was recently asked about this in the context of Australia. I think that the ‘tyranny of distance’ is very rapidly being replaced by the ‘promise of proximity’. Directly to your north, you have an Asian century taking off. That move will be of historical proportions, which means that the opportunities are of historical proportions. However, the competition will be as well. For a long time, Australia has had the benefit of being insulated from some of those competitive factors.

    When you ask the question – what is the future of Newcastle, or of Australia? – you need to consider it in the context of this changing geo-political landscape.

    Angus Maddison was a British economist who mapped out the world economy from 1st century AD. He found that, for the first 17 of the past 20 centuries, China and India generated half the world’s economy. When the Industrial Revolution comes along in the 18th century, we see a two or three century ‘exceptional period’, I suppose you may call it. What we are seeing now is that new convergence, where most people recognise the rise of China as something. This is interesting, because when people think about the rise of China or the Asian Century, they often tend to think about what has happened in the last 30 to 40 years. However, if you look at it using Maddison’s perspective, it is really a return to the historical equilibrium. The question for Newcastle, and Australia, is: what is your role in that world?

    Q: What role do you think organised labour can play in supporting innovation? Why are they generally not invited to the conversation?

    Dr Anthea Bill: I have not done any research specifically into the role of organised labour in supporting innovation. However, I do know what we learned from some work that we did at Hunter Research Foundation, speaking to 54 manufacturers across the region during a crisis in manufacturing. We saw substantial job losses in manufacturing. By interviewing some of the Hunter’s high performing advanced manufacturers, we identified the value of empowering innovation across an organisation, from the ground up, and through all levels. Ensuring that everyone is committed to innovation, whether they work in marketing, management or conducting a routine, low-skill operation, was one of the key factors. It was successful in infusing innovation across an organisation, which led to success in that innovation space. I am not sure why workers are not currently at the table.

    Sander Van Amelsvoort: In northern Europe, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany, it is something that is part of every business council, called ‘Works Councils’. The really successful middle enterprises in Germany that have global reach have Works Councils, with labour leaders on their boards. That is mandated by law. That is a really interesting model. There are some down-sides to that as well. What it does do is to draw that aspect into the conversation. It helps those businesses to understand what kinds of accommodations they need to make in order to be competitive. Where does investment play a part and where does our labour force play a part? This could be another thing you could think about doing here – to explore those examples from northern Europe.

    Professor Will Rifkin: I had a doctoral student who looked at dialogue between communities and mining companies. She landed on that key question – who is in the room taking part in the dialogue and who isn’t? When you think of organised labour, you think, who else is not in the room?

    Q: A recurring theme throughout Festival events has been the difficulty for start-ups to source funding locally or otherwise. How do we reduce this barrier to entry?

    Sander Van Amelsvoort: I am not too familiar with the funding environment here. I do know that access to capital for start-ups in Australia is a real issue. It is not only a question of whether there is enough capital. There is also the question of whether there are enough start-ups to spend the capital.

    People often ask why Australia’s super funds can’t set aside a proportion of their investment capital portfolios to invest in start-ups. In my previous role at the Committee for Melbourne, we have found that the super funds often can’t justify finding the resources to build the knowledge required to set up that extra part of their portfolio. It is a key thing to think about. How can you build knowledge and awareness of these tactics among super funds in Australia? You also need a new risk mindset, so super funds have to consider how that would play out in their whole portfolio.

    Another thing is the breadth and depth of the innovation system. Last night, at dinner, we spoke about the biotechnology research capabilities, particularly in Melbourne but also here in Newcastle. We have very strong capability in research but not in development. That has to do with many factors, including the small number of people who have experienced commercialisation in this sector from end to end. That also means that investors often don’t really understand that sector.

    For example, with tech-start-ups, they often just need $100,000 and a couple of laptops, a lot of coffee and off they go. Biomedical research, a key strength in Australia, is a very different game. They are usually longer projects and involve a greater level of investment with high levels of uncertainty. These are the kind of projects that need to be tackled. Apparently, a lot of biotechnology companies listing as a way of raising capital because they can’t find it anywhere else. People in the industry are saying that they are often under-valued on the stock exchange because investors can’t see the value as clearly as they can in some other investments.

    Professor Will Rifkin: In relation to the last question on why labour isn’t at the table, why aren’t the financial institutions at the table too?

    Q: How do you manage the previous workforce and ensure the skill base that previously drove a city is not left behind?

    Dr Anthea Bill: Some recent work by Alpha Beta on the future of jobs highlights the need for Australians, and Australian education providers on all levels, to better understand the need for continuous learning. That is one strategy for ensuring people are not left behind. Also, we need very deliberate and concerted efforts to ensure that there are policies and government programs in place to support potentially marginalised workers. There are already some normal safeguards for people. However, we will probably need new programs to identify and foster pathways into future work and education.

    Sander Van Amelsvoort: This is probably one of the defining questions of our time, given the rate of technological change. I am not sure what the statistics are for the current workforce. However, the Foundation for Young Australians has estimated that the average university graduate today is expected to have 17 different jobs across five different sectors. I have young daughters and I believe the chances of them going through the same kind of educational experiences that I have enjoyed are very small. I suspect that by the time they grow up, the idea of signing up for a university degree for four years, at the end of which you qualify for a profession, will be entirely different. I suspect it will be much more about lifelong learning, continual upskilling, micro-credentialing, and learning how to ensure your credentials are recognised.

    It is hard to think about education needs in the 21st century. We talk about STEM skills in Australia, which are needed. We also need to have a discussion about the enterprise skills that are needed because more and more functions in the economy are going to be increasingly automated. What does that mean for your unique value as an employee? That is around critical thinking, negotiating, creativity, problem solving and team-playing. It is also about how you manage an increasing portfolio of skills, as you upskill throughout your working life. How do you manage a portfolio of jobs in the gig economy, where on Monday I work for one business, on Tuesday for another and in between I run my own business? These are all fundamental questions we have to grapple with if we want to maintain a competitive workforce.

    Dr Anthea Bill: To involve all the elements in the city working collaboratively is a great step toward addressing some of the social problems that might come out of automation.

    Q: How can Newcastle elevate collaboration (between business, civic leadership & the community) above the often mundane & immature realpolitik?

    Sander Van Amelsvoort: First of all you need a shared sense of what the changes are going to be. Nobody is going to be immune from changes taking place that are outside our control. Technology, international politics, economic events, ecological trends – all these things are beyond our control. They cannot be solved at the local level or even on the national level. We do need to have a shared idea, as a society and as a community, of what changes are out there for us.

    How do we want to navigate them? Having the ability to pull together around just that question is really powerful. To overcome the mundane and immature realpolitik, you need to first understand that we are all in this together. That takes time. You need to go back and forth, and sit down at the table again and again. There is no shortcut.

    Dr Anthea Bill: I recollect comments from David Bartlett at the Hunter Economic Breakfast in March. When speaking about Tasmania’s response to the establishment of the Museum of Old and New Art. He talked about the need for more progressive thinking and investment in the arts. There is a role for the media, and for leaders, in not under-estimating the understanding and sophistication of the populace. Even framing the question is a challenge for our leadership and our participation in the region.

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  • Smart + together = strong: a formula for success

    Wednesday, 5 June, 2019


    The amazing economic transformation of his home town of Eindhoven in the Netherlands was described by Sander Van Amelsvoort at the recent Hunter Economic breakfast in Newcastle.

    Van Amelsvoort is Director of SJS Strategy, and the Immediate Past President of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce Australia. He provided an international case study in collaboration between the business sector, local government and a university that has resulted in development of a vibrant innovation ecosystem.

    Eindhoven was synonymous with the electronics company Phillips. In the 1990s, Phillips undertook a massive restructure. Headquarters shifted to Amsterdam and the company shed thousands of jobs in Eindhoven. Another significant regional company, DAF Trucks, filed for bankruptcy. One-third of Eindhoven’s workforce, 30,000 people, lost their jobs. The resulting economic downturn spelled the end for numerous smaller businesses, including the meat wholesale business owned by Van Amelsvoort’s father.

    From crisis, Eindhoven has successfully transitioned its economy over two decades. It is now the heart of one of the most innovative regions in Europe. With only four per cent of the Netherlands population, the Greater Eindhoven area - now known as the 'Brainport' region - generates 44 per cent of the country’s patents and 19 per cent of its private investment.

    How can Eindhoven’s experiences inform development of the Hunter’s innovation ecosystem?

    Smart + Together = Strong summarises the winning formula for Eindhoven, Van Amelsvoort stated. He offered the following advice based on their experiences:

    No cut-and-paste solution

    Too many regions have tried to become the next Silicon Valley. There are unique reasons why Silicon Valley developed in the way it did. You need to understand the region’s unique endowments. What is your heritage, and what are key capabilities built over the years? How do you leverage your strengths?

    Collaborate to compete Knowledge needs to be shared. Eindhoven responded to their crisis by bringing together three key institutions – the university, the business chamber and the city council – to drive change. To optimise this ‘triple helix model’, you need to align your knowledge institutions with capabilities provided by other assets and resources. Do not make it too complex. Avoid fragmentation and duplication.

    To create consensus, draw together the relevant actors to agree on and pursue a strategic vision for the region. Convince them of the necessity and the benefits of collaboration. That is not easy.

    Bring together the resources, people and networks with the shared purpose to develop the entrepreneurial and intellectual potential of the region. That shared purpose should include attracting to the region both talent and innovative firms.

    These elements provide competitive advantage. Van Amelsvoort noted, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.

    Trust is needed

    Trust is another key element in Eindhoven’s success. Jan Mengelers,President of the Executive Board of Eindhoven University of Technology was quoted as saying: “The ‘top 50 people’ [in the Brainport region] all have each other’s phone number. And if one of them calls you, you pick up. Even on the weekend. And if something needs to happen, then together you get it done in no time. That is the unique strength of Eindhoven.”

    You work together to get the region ahead, even if it does not serve your purposes in the short term. That is a real advantage for smaller and smarter cities. If you look at the really big cities, such extensive alignment and commitment can be more difficult to achieve. Do not underestimate the value of the network that is here today [at the Hunter Economic Breakfast], to collaborate and create a shared sense of purpose, Van Amelsvoort explained.

    Never let a good crisis go to waste

    Nothing substitutes for having your back against the wall. It allows you to do things that you previously thought were not possible. The period that Eindhoven went through in the late 90s and early 2000s could have easily turned the region inward. That has happened elsewhere.Countries decide it is a big scary world out there and choose to close themselves off from it.

    In Eindhoven, they chose to collectively embrace a new reality. That is part of the conversation that needs to take place, in Eindhoven and increasingly across the world. Rather than seeing themselves as isolated entities, Van Amelsvoort concluded, key actors came together with the shared purpose of creating that single over-arching goal, the prosperity of the Brainport region.

    Click here to download the breakfast presentations.

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