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State Govt pushes economic "good news" at mushroom expansion

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The State Government has given $1.8 million to one of Australia's biggest horticultural companies to help it expand its mushroom-growing facility at Monarto, in a move expected to create 200 ongoing jobs.

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The state contribution is a sweetener in a $60 million expansion of the facility by company Costa, which says it is the biggest supplier of mushrooms to supermarket chains Woolworths, Coles and Aldi.

At a press conference today, Costa CEO Harry Debney praised the State Government for its contribution, which is split between the Economic Investment Fund and the Regional Development Fund.

Debney said the expanded facility would eventually be powered by a new solar farm, due to his concerns about expensive and unstable power.

However, he said he was more concerned about energy security in Victoria, where power to another of Costa’s facilities had been secured by the installation of diesel generators.

He said the expansion of the facility, which will double production at the site from 120 to 240 tonnes a week, was partly due to financial assistance, but also because of a lack of bureaucratic barriers.

The news was seized on today by Premier Jay Weatherill, whose government has been under economic fire following poor unemployment figures earlier this month.

The Government reviewed its economic strategy after the spike in jobless figures to 7.3 per cent – easily the worst in Australia – but Weatherill insisted today that the plan was working.

He said the “challenges” in the South Australian economy were due to the Holden closure, a shut-down in investment in mining due to poor commodity prices, and “dithering” over defence contracts which led to job losses in the sector.

“They’re the headlines – that’s the hostility,” he said. “What we need to do though is stay the course, with a plan, which is working.”

He said the Costa announcement today was an “example of the plan working” and promised to “double down” on the Government’s investment in food and wine industries.

Investment and Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith pushed a similar line, saying his Investment Attraction Agency had created more than 5000 jobs and garnered $1 billion worth of investment since it began operating 18 months ago.

“There are good news stories everywhere in this state and this is one of them here today,” Hamilton-Smith said.

Weatherill indicated that the Investment Attraction Agency would gain new funding in next month’s state Budget, which he said would be focused on job creation.

Costa says the Monarto site has the lowest production costs of all of its mushroom production facilities, which are located in five states.

Construction on the expansion will start later this year, with operations to begin in 2018.

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