News and published articles in 2020 to 2017
Thursday, 3 October, 2019Close Article
Small businesses aren’t just decoration - they’re essential to creating a thriving city.
What makes a city great? We don’t fully know all the ingredients, and assembling them together in a way that makes the urban environment buzz is an inexact art.
But we do know some of the things we can’t do without.
Coffee to start the day. Hairdressers. Pharmacists. That cute little bespoke clothing shop. Quirky new restaurants. Second hand bookshops. Novelties and necessities, made available by people who are prepared to put their own money, their own effort and their own ideas on the line.
These, and so many more things, are some of the tangible benefits that a vibrant small business sector provides us with.
It’s something that big corporations aren’t going to do. Ever been into a Coles, a Woolworths, a Bunnings, or any other large-scale retailer and felt that you were just part of an increasingly commoditised business model?
There are other, less obvious, functions that small firms also perform for a city. Jobs. Wealth creation. A spirit of entrepreneurialism. New ideas. The sense of ’giving it a go’. They even create the next generation of successful big businesses. Without these, small cities have little vibrancy and little hope of a better future.
Our small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) businesses are an important part of any successful local economy. Newcastle has a long and proud history of great local firms that have gone on to become leading national brands.
Yet there are many things that most of us don’t realise about SMEs. They may be small, but collectively they carry significant weight. More than 97 per cent of businesses in Australia are small or medium sized. In fact, the most common type of business is one that employs very few, if any, people besides the owner(s).
A surprisingly large number are also based out of peoples’ homes. Most of them make only modest amounts of money. The typical business turns over less than $200,000 a year, and profits are even smaller again. They have short life spans and only a handful last more than 10-15 years. Success is rarely guaranteed, and failure an ever-present threat.
Many of these businesses are surprisingly fragile. It takes clever policy to encourage them, and only a few thoughtless government decisions to destroy many entrepreneurial ventures.
What do we need to do to make this work?
First of all, we need to avoid over-relying on the ’white knight syndrome‘ - where bringing in one or two large companies is seen as the solution to all of a region’s economic uncertainties. Cities can’t base themselves, or be anchored, on just a handful of big corporations. Such enterprises are important, but these solutions make us dangerously over-reliant on introducing big businesses whose primary loyalties are rarely to the local town, and who will leave once the cost-benefit equation shifts against the local community.
We also need to regulate our local businesses carefully and cleverly. Many local governments, for example, have encouraged a thriving micro-business and self-employment culture by making it easy to operate a business from home. They’ve made sure that their zoning and planning rules are easy to understand, reliable and stable, backed up by decision-making processes that are prompt and predictable.
Policy makers in smart cities also recognise that new innovative businesses aren’t just found in the technology sector. Whilst the latest app-based business may grab the most media profile, they know that most small businesses are found in much less glamorous, but equally important, fields. They also ensure that there are advisory support services available to all of these SMEs.
We need to constantly look at the latest tools being used elsewhere to encourage SMEs, and be prepared to adopt them quickly if they have shown their worth. Business incubators, shared workstations, free access to business start-up advice, mentoring and help to grow are all innovative tools local regions around the world have used.
In short, there’s a world of difference between communities that regard local businesses as something to be nurtured and valued, and those cities that treat SMEs as a nuisance that must be tolerated at best, regulated at all times, and charged the highest possible fees.
Finally, there’s the invisible but crucially important issue of attitudes towards entrepreneurs. Do our community and government leaders celebrate our local small businesses in their words and actions? Do we foster a conducive climate that encourages people to take the risks and try their hand at being their own boss?
Building a successful, vibrant city that provides plenty of jobs, great retail and customer experiences, and creates a new generation of entrepreneurs isn’t easy. But if we don’t try, we’re all going to be much poorer.
Dr Michael Schaper is CEO of the Canberra Business Chamber and former deputy chairman of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. He is hosting a panel discussion - Can SMEs save small cities? - at the Smaller & Smarter Cities International Symposium in Newcastle on 10 October. This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday, 5 October 2019
Wednesday, 25 September, 2019Close Article
Women in business in the Upper Hunter was a focus of the HRF Centre’s Upper Hunter Economic breakfast in Muswellbrook on 11 September.
Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for the HRF Centre, presented data on the proportion of female-led businesses in the Upper Hunter and how they perform against their male-run counterparts.
The HRF Centre has been recording the gender of the business owners and decision makers, interviewed as part of its Business Pulse, since December 2013. The female share of operators has grown a little over that time from 44 per cent to 46 per cent in 2019. This is on par with the latest Australian Taxation Office figures, which show around 45 per cent of Australia's small business operators are women. This number continues to grow.
Female-operated Upper Hunter* businesses are more likely to be in the health and social assistance and the education sectors than those operated by men. A greater proportion of women than men are running businesses with 11-50 employees within the Upper Hunter, in contrast to the national trend. Women are less likely than men to be self-employed.
There is no substantial difference in profitability, levels of trading or hiring in businesses operated by men and women within the Upper Hunter. Businesses operated by women are more likely to be exporting than those run by men.
Three women who lead or operate businesses in the Upper Hunter spoke about their experiences at the breakfast. They answered questions from the 200-strong audience.
Dr Kirsten Molloy, CEO of the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator (HVCCC), gave a presentation on her career path in the male-dominated mining sector. Prior to her role at HVCCC, Dr Molloy was a Business Manager for Orica Mining Services in South-East Australia following a range of other executive commercial and technical roles over 16 years at Orica.
Dr Molloy said her professional experiences spurred her efforts to support gender diversity in leadership, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) related fields.
“When I entered the workforce as a graduate, there were women all around me,” she said. “By my early 30s, I was often the only woman in the room. We are going backwards in gender diversity.”
The number of female CEOs in the ASX 200 has dropped, according to the Chief Executive Women’s (CEW) ASX200 census just released, Dr Molloy said. This census also shows a lack of women in line roles at the senior level that lead to CEO or CFO roles. There are lots more women in functional roles, in IT, human resources and compliance, which typically do not lead to CEO roles. While around half of Australia’s graduates are women - Australia leads the world in educating women according to the World Economic Forum – we rank 39th in the world when it comes to overall gender equity, she said.
Dr Molloy is co-founder and Chair of the Equal Futures Project in the Hunter, and the Hunter Diversity Awards supporting diversity, equity and inclusion. She is also founder of Verity Leadership, which aims to ensure leadership ranks reflect the diversity of society.
Joplin Higgins’ business employs 20 people (18 of them women) across three legal offices in the Hunter. When asked what motivated her to start her own business, Ms Higgins said she had identified a ‘hole in the market’ in servicing women, particularly in domestic violence cases.
“I wanted to provide a safety net for my clients,” she said. “I wanted them to enter into a partnership with me as opposed to them being just a number in the system.”
Ms Higgins also tries to create career pathways for the women she employs, offering training, career coaching and flexible working hours.
“The main vision of Joplin Lawyers is to service women in our community and provide a service to regional Australia,” she said.
Business innovation coach Claire Quigley was asked whether women bring different qualities than men to running businesses. While stating she usually viewed male and female entrepreneurs and business owners as equal, she was able to identify some differences within her client base.
“Female business owners often come later into the game, having had another career or children. This tends to make us very much aware that confidence in an idea is not enough. I think that is a great attribute to have. Women will ask, who can help me, rather than trying to go it alone, which is more typical of male entrepreneurs.
“The second attribute is perseverance. My Dad calls me a little terrier because I won’t be diverted from that passion that drives an idea. Many female entrepreneurs and business owners tend to invest more personally. We don’t tend to go down the typical path of raising capital from the outset. We are more likely to say, hey, let’s start with this and see how we go.
“Thirdly, women tend to be much more aware of the social impact they can have, as well as the economic impact.”
Ms Quigley cited a McKinsey report that estimates that creating gender parity between male and female entrepreneurs and business operators by 2025 in Australia would generate an additional $225 billion in GDP over and above today’s level.
When questioned about what strategies she believes would encourage greater gender diversity, Dr Molloy replied: “the current leadership base making different decisions”.
“The massive amount of denial and inertia around this is amazing,” she said. “Because it has been fairly topical for so long, there is a perception out there that it is solved. It is far from solved and it is not just gender inequality. It is in ethnicity, sexual orientation and a whole raft of other groups that are under-represented in leadership.”
All three of the speakers had encountered substantial barriers in pursuing their careers. They have all balanced family life with work. Each of them offered valuable advice to young women entering business.
“Believe in yourself and your talent. Accept training and never take no for an answer,” said Ms Higgins.
“Be articulate, strong and clear on what you want and don’t want,” Ms Quigley advised. “Know in your core what you are going for and be prepared to fail for it. I have had multiple different careers in my lifetime and have learned not to be afraid to fail.”
Dr Molloy stressed the importance of building support networks.
“You will encounter challenges in having a career, it will get tough,” she counselled. “It is important to create your own personal ‘board of directors’, who you can go to for advice and who can help you to deal with issues and problems.”
The HRF Centre’s breakfast series theme for 2019 is Collaboration and Vision. Visit our website for more information on our remaining events.
*Upper Hunter region – Singleton, Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter Local Government Areas
Wednesday, 25 September, 2019Close Article
Cities around the world, including Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in the Hunter, are embracing ‘smart city’ technologies. The City of Newcastle’s multi award-winning Smart City Program, for instance, envisions a connected, digitally-enabled, and sustainable future for Novocastrians. The City has successfully received significant funding from both State and Federal governments in support of Newcastle’s smart city transition.
Newcastle is increasingly part of a global economy, created by smart cities, that is predicted to amount to $US507 billion by 2020. Investment in this burgeoning economy by local businesses and governments can benefit with guidance from a practical framework developed by Dr Ellie Cosgrave, keynote speaker at this year's Smaller & Smarter Cities: international symposium.The Symposium will be held in Newcastle from 9 to 11 October.
Dr Cosgrave is a leading civil engineer, director of the Urban Innovation and Policy Lab, and lecturer in Urban Innovation at University College London. Her work explores how smart infrastructure impacts social, political and economic processes.
It is not all plain sailing creating a ‘perfect’ city, she warns. Advances in technology-orientated urban design and policy have the capacity to magnify existing inequalities in our cities. This risk is particularly prevalent in a political context where private interests are more protected than public interests, Dr Cosgrave says. In other words, smart city technologies have the potential to create an urban landscape that results in increasing social divisions according to wealth, gender and race.
That can occur just through the process of gathering and presenting data, according to publications of Professor Rob Kitchin, an international expert on city indicators based at the National University of Ireland. The selection of key indicators of urban mobility or rental prices, for example, has integral to it the politics of power groups aiming for particular investments or outcomes.
However, it is possible for digital technologies to transform cities for the better if designers are cognisant of these sorts of social impacts, Dr Cosgrave says. She explores how, and where, more conscious design is possible as co-presenter with renowned urbanist, Professor Greg Clark, of the BBC podcast, My Perfect City.
The podcast opens with the greeting, “If you’re listening to this while battling against city life on a packed commuter train, headphones on to block out the noise of outside, running in a park while breathing in the fumes, well perhaps you would like to join us in imagining what a perfect city would be like to live in.”
The podcast highlights examples from global cities with solutions to modern urban issues. For example, Seoul is increasing employment opportunities in health, education and caring industries to compensate for jobs lost to technology. Paris has introduced participatory budgeting, where citizens can democratically vote on funding to improve their city. Glasgow has more than halved its homicide rate through a public health intervention that tackles crime as a product of inequality and disenfranchisement in urban life.
Central to these successful innovations in city life is the design paradigm that posits that inequality reflects a choice, Dr Cosgrave proposes. She says that public space and infrastructure professionals design for their own experience. The majority of these professionals are men. They imagine possibilities and places based on their own understanding of what is good, what works for men like them. That can mean neglect for considerations of women, children, the aged, disabled, and those from other cultural backgrounds.
Examples of exclusion in public spaces abound, she explains. Globally, women make up fewer than 30 per cent of cyclists in cities. Within that cohort, older women and those of Asian and Latin descent were disproportionately under-represented. However, women cyclists are over-represented in the Netherlands and Denmark. In those countries, more inclusive cycling infrastructure has resulted from public planning that takes seriously the safety concerns of women.
To support more inclusive design, Dr Cosgrave co-founded ScienceGrrl, an organisation to attract and retain women and girls in STEM fields.
Dr Cosgrave’s work tells us that the success of any city is contingent on its ability to serve all of its people, making that a central focus of design rather than an afterthought.
Dr Ellie Cosgrave’s keynote address, Designing inclusive cities, is on Thursday, 10 October. Register your place now at http://www.newcastle.edu.au/smaller-smarter-cities.
This opinion piece by Professor Will Rifkin, Director, HRF Centre, was published in the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday, 25 September 2019
Tuesday, 24 September, 2019Close Article
What can we see today that suggests what the future will look like? How might new technologies change the way that we live, work and play? How can we prepare for this future? These questions have been investigated in a multi-year study, with the findings to be shared in Newcastle early next month.
Lead researcher in this effort, Dr Stefan Hajkowicz is director of CSIRO's Data61 Insight Team and author of Global Megatrends: Seven patterns of change shaping our future. He will deliver a keynote address at this year's Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium hosted in Newcastle by the HRF Centre.
Returning for its second year, the Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium will take place from October 10 to 11. Delegates will join a range of expert speakers to debate and analyse what it means to achieve sustainable development in major non-capital cities here and abroad.
The concept of a 'megatrend' was introduced in 1982 by academic John Naisbitt. It is intended to suggest a narrative about the future addressing environmental, economic and social conditions. In this domain of strategic foresight, Dr Hajkowicz is a leading scholar and a valuable addition to the symposium program.
Dr Hajkowicz's CSIRO's Data61 Insights Team has completed numerous research consultancies and hundreds of briefings, seminars and workshops on megatrends. Their report, Our Future World, launched in June of this year, identifies eight megatrends reshaping the global business landscape. They are:
- More from less - increasing demand for limited natural resources
- Planetary pushback - from global to microbial scales, we face a range of challenges from superbugs to climate change
- The Silk Highway - rapid economic growth and urbanisation in Asia and the developing world
- On the move - more mobility than ever before - now is a good time to think about transport and logistics
- Forever young - an ageing population, new patterns of chronic illness and rising healthcare expenditure
- Digital immersion - technology reshaping retail and office precincts, city design and function, and labour markets
- Intelligent machines - artificial intelligence is on the rise as we move to a world of autonomous machines, and
- Keeping it real - in a virtual world, the marginal value of the 'real' world will grow - keep sight of the human dimension.
The forces that create megatrends develop over decades. When they do come to fruition, however, they can hit with explosive force. Consider the disruption of the taxi industry by the ride-sharing app phenomenon, an example pointed to by Dr Hajkowicz. Preparing for such dramatic changes before they hit is incumbent on businesses and government, Dr Hajkowicz argues.
"The change heralded by megatrends lies beyond our direct control but not beyond our influence," he says. "By getting a picture of how the world is changing and what these megatrends are, we can alter our destiny."
What global megatrends are we facing in the Hunter?
Regional cities are moving away from the traditional manufacturing and agricultural industries that powered their growth over the 20th century toward more professional and service-based economies. For example, the largest employment sector in this region is health and social services. The likely effects of these global megatrends on non-capital cities, like ours, will be explored by symposium delegates.
Today's era of increasingly-rapid change in the digital world sees "opportunity and threat coming together," according to Dr Hajkowicz. CSIRO's Data61's initiative is seeking to equip Australian industry and society with the most advanced technologies in artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics and informatics that can power our industrial productivity and competitiveness over the next decade.
The output of Data61 is wide ranging and with some potentially significant developments. The effort includes soil mapping for farmers to better understand potential profitability; a solution for detecting and monitoring black lung disease; flood modelling systems; and Hovermap technology, which achieved the first autonomous out-of-sight and underground drone flight. On the environmental front, they have developed habitat-protecting robots in the Amazon and collected data on nitrogen levels in the Great Barrier Reef.
Dr Hajkowicz develops decision models - designed to help government, business and communities to make smarter decisions about the future. These models have guided investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars, for example, informing federal and state governments on critical policy choices.
Dr Hajkowicz will deliver his keynote address, Global megatrends reshaping the way we live, work and play, on Thursday October 10. He will also host a clinic at the symposium:Strategic imperatives for the Hunter from megatrends to practical solutions.Register now.
This opinion piece by Professor Will Rifkin was published in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday, 21 September 2019
Monday, 23 September, 2019Close Article
Confidence in the regional economy fell in the wake of declining performance in Upper Hunter businesses in the first half of 2019. That is according to survey data of the HRF Centre. The data were released at the Centre’s Upper Hunter Economic breakfast in Muswellbrook on 11 September.
Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for HRF Centre, explained that Upper Hunter businesses reported that, on average, last quarter’s forward orders had declined.
“Significantly fewer Upper Hunter businesses are now reporting that their performance, on balance, is improving compared to a year ago,” Dr Bill stated. “Business performance deteriorated over 2018 following a December 2017 high, when performance was back at pre-GFC levels.”
Both business and household confidence in the local economy over the next 12 months fell sharply in the first half of 2019, the survey figures show. Likely drivers of this uncertainty are a softening in global growth projections and a declining trend in thermal coal prices during 2019. This dampening of confidence is shared with the Hunter region and the nation more broadly.
On the positive side, Dr Bill says that the region continues to exhibit low rates of unemployment, employment growth has been strong, and the housing approval pipeline remains robust, particularly in Singleton and Muswellbrook.
The Upper Hunter economic breakfast also focused on women in business. Encouraging data on the proportion of female-led businesses in the Upper Hunter and how they perform against their male-run counterparts was presented by Dr Bill. This HRF Centre data is included in the Upper Hunter Region Economic Indicators publication, which was released at the breakfast.
Monday, 2 September, 2019Close Article
More than half of humanity now lives in cities, a proportion expected to grow to three-quarters by 2050. How are they doing, and what is Greater Newcastle’s role in responding to this trend within Australia?
As a key indicator of wellbeing, the United Nations (UN) has started tracking the liveability of cities. Access to affordable housing, health care, clean air, public transport and adequate waste management are the critical measures of liveability that the UN will be watching.
Australia’s capital cities are already showing signs of strain. Sydney and Melbourne, as we have noted previously, are homes to 40 per cent of the country’s population - 10 million people. Expected population growth will intensify competition to access opportunities for quality education and training, satisfying jobs, infrastructure and services. It is vital that we look outside our capitals to build on the economic opportunities that smaller cities and regions can offer and to create vibrant communities.
Australia’s larger regional cities (with populations greater than 50,000) experience greater housing affordability, lower crime rates, less congestion and less marked inequality when compared to their capital counterparts, according to the Regional Australia Institute. They collectively represent an economy equivalent to the size of Finland. Here in the Hunter, the Gross Regional Product amounts to more than $50 billion annually. That is more than Tasmania, the Northern Territory or the ACT.
This economic capability is complemented by their functionality as an outlet for capital city population and their roles as regional hubs. They provide regions with access to health care, education and financial resources. These cities thus occupy a key niche in the country’s socio-economic ‘ecosystem’.
The potential of such cities was highlighted in the inaugural Second Cities: Smaller and Smarter Symposium in 2018, the first gathering of its kind in Australia. The forum enabled the 220 participants to learn more about leveraging opportunities in our non-capital cities while resolving urgent urban and regional challenges.
This year’s Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium is structured around the highest priorities identified at the conclusion of the 2018 event. It will present leading national and international practices on:
- socio-economic diversification and resilience
- collaboration across government, industry and community
- identity and positioningto promote the region as a place to live, invest and visit.
The opening keynote address on 10 October will be delivered by Nigel Jacob - co-founder of New Urban Mechanics (NUM) in the Boston mayor’s office. The NUM team have been recognised as being at the forefront of urban design since soon after their formation in 2010. The challenges they are addressing are becoming increasingly prevalent in cities around the world.
Working experimentally, Jacob has created a risk-tolerant culture at NUM. They have collaborated with government, artists and architects to trial Plugin housing (easily assembled temporary shelters). In pursuing better access across the city, they have developed micro mobility in the form of e-scooters and autonomous vehicle transport. They have also invested in city climate resilience through measures such as flood-resistant public spaces, among many other innovations.
“We’re committed to finding new ways to collaborate with our community beyond the traditional model,” Jacob said in an interview earlier this year. “It may be about technology, but it may also not be about technology. It is really about understanding people in new ways.”
Jacob has been named a Public Official of the Year by Governing Magazine, earned a White House ‘Champion of Change’ award, and won the Tribeca ‘Disruptive Innovation’ award.
He is one of 30 national and international speakers and panellists confirmed for the Smaller and Smarter Cities: International Symposium. They are real-world practitioners in business, planning, management, consultancy and government coming together to help us to explore an inclusive and sustainable future for Greater Newcastle.
The symposium runs 9-11 October. Find out more at www.newcastle.edu.au/smaller-smarter-cities
This opinion piece by Prof. Will Rifkin, Director, HRF Centre was published in the Newcastle Herald on 31 August 2019.
The contribution was researched by graduate intern, Alice Peart. The HRF Centre is leading the delivery of the Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium in partnership with the City of Newcastle, the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation, Hunter Water, AECOM and sponsors.