SmartHub Business Manager Elize Hattin, SmartHub member Tony Davys, MP Michelle Landry and Mayor Margaret Strelow
SmartHub Business Manager Elize Hattin, SmartHub member Tony Davys, MP Michelle Landry and Mayor Margaret Strelow Rockhampton Regional Council

MAYOR'S COLUMN: New answers to old problems

ONE hundred years ago our geographic position guaranteed our importance - with roads, rail and telephone wires leading to Rockhampton.

We were the centre of a booming region. But the internet has changed the way commerce is done, and planes take people from western communities directly to Brisbane.

Rockhampton has historically enjoyed large employment in government, mining, manufacturing, the railway, and a handful of other large employers. As these areas have weakened, it has exposed another area that needs improvement in our economy.

We all know how important small business is as an employer and the driver of economic power. In fact 44 per cent of all non-government jobs are in small businesses.

We have significantly less businesses than we need to have for a healthy, strong economy. In 2015 we had 60 businesses per thousand head of population. Kalgoorlie had 65 (34,000), Geraldton had 75 (41,000), Toowoomba had 90 (160,000).

 

The Smart Working Hub design proposed for the former Bond Store at Customs House in Rockhampton.
The Smart Working Hub design proposed for the former Bond Store at Customs House in Rockhampton. Contributed

The state and national averages are 90 and though we need to update our statistical data sets, but I doubt things will have improved a great deal.

Indeed our number of larger businesses has fallen away over recent times.

The SmartHub is part of our response to this challenge. It is like a nursery for start-ups. Start-ups are the way businesses develop and grow in the new economy.

The term start-up has a particular meaning. Usually the founder of a start-up is looking to solve a problem or provide some new need in the market. The founder will then test to see if his or her idea 'has legs'.

Wikipedia tells us that founders design start-ups to 'effectively develop and validate a scalable business model'. Start-ups see the world as their marketplace.

Of course, in a way, there is trial and error for any new business. Within the start-up world the focus is on testing and developing your idea on a small scale in a supportive environment. And 'failing fast' if the idea isn't going to develop.

I see some similarity between the way the start-up world is developing and the industrial revolution, when the invention of machines lead to an era of innovation as things that were previously done on a cottage scale moved into factories to use the new technology.

In 2015, the State Government released a report which highlighted the state of play with the start-up ecosystem in the regions.

This was released around the time we first adopted our Smart Way.

 

Forward Strategy, and it showed Rockhampton's start-up ratio to population was 1 in 12,000.

We were a 'stand out' in the wrong way! This ratio has now dramatically shifted to an impressive 1 in 1,500 and our Smart Strategy and the growth of the Smart Hub can take a lot of the credit.

Even though the SmartHub is clearly associated with modern technology-driven businesses, these are the small businesses that the next generation will think is normal.

You may have seen media this week that our submission for support to deliver a new program for start-ups, called 'Turbo Traction Lab', was successful.

The $500,000 grant money we received is part of a $23million Federal Government initiative for new incubators in regions or sectors with high innovation potential, like us, to deliver activities to improve the commercial prospects of start-ups.

 

The Smart Working Hub design proposed for the former Bond Store at Customs House in Rockhampton.
The Smart Working Hub design proposed for the former Bond Store at Customs House in Rockhampton. Contributed

The Turbo Traction Lab program will be delivered from our SmartHub by some of the best minds in business hailing from across Australia and overseas.

It is an 80-day workshop designed to allow both full-time and part-time founders build their business to gain traction in their global market with hands-on assistance from world-class experts in residence.

They will work closely alongside small businesses and start-ups and guide them on how to build a solid business plan, make their products commercially viable and generate enough income to be self-sustaining.

This new start-up, co-working, ecosystem looks very different to the economy that built Rockhampton as the service centre for the region. The focus is on providing services to the world.

But it is absolutely where our future has to be.

We need to put our support behind people in this community who have the drive and the skill to develop these businesses because they will build the jobs for the future.

We're not saying that every business in the Hub or every business that goes on the Turbo Traction Lab will go on to be a major employer in our town, although it would be lovely if one or two did.

It is more a recognition that commerce is now global and the marketplace for goods and for services has fundamentally changed.

The SmartHub and our determination to support these young businesses is very much about a future for our children.

We are justifiably proud of people like Bevan Slattery, Jason Gomersall and Steve Baxter who moved away to do great things in the new economy. But it would be much better if the next round of start-up successes were able to grow their business in Rockhampton.

The Smart Hub is at Customs House and currently houses 55 entities. They are a mix of true start-ups and micro businesses. They receive support, advice and mentoring in-house and access to workshops and training.



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