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New centre to shape Adelaide's north

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The City of Playford is looking for someone to help shape the growth and development of Adelaide’s northern suburbs. There will be challenges, but the job comes with a licence to be innovative and a state-of-the-art building to work from.

Mayor Glenn Docherty is pulling out all stops to have a director in place before the $16.6 million Stretton Centre opens its doors in May and sees it as an exciting opportunity to “make a real difference to the north at a critical time in history, and indeed to South Australia as a whole”.

“Employers across all sectors, including retail, construction, horticulture, health care, social services and manufacturing, need a game changer, and we believe Stretton is it,” he said.

The three-storey, 2000-square-metre centre is impressive. Prominent in Playford Alive’s new town centre, it is designed to encourage interactivity and modern work practices and offers a full suite of high-tech facilities, including 3D laser printers.

Even more innovative, however, is the concept of bringing researchers, businesses, young entrepreneurs and workforce development programs under one roof in a bid to identify and pursue opportunities to transform the local economy and create jobs.

Comparisons have been made with the strategies used by cities such as Manchester and Bilbao in Spain to regenerate their economies.

However, Dr Mal Hemmerling, who chairs the group overseeing the project, sees greater similarities with the likes of the European Network of Living Labs, which the European Commission sees as a model for Public Private People Partnerships for “user-driven open innovation”.

“What we are trying to do is learn from successful projects elsewhere, certainly in terms of the European environment with regeneration, but we are also trying to adapt that into a local environment,” he said.

The centre is a partnership between the City of Playford, Renewal SA and the University of Adelaide, which will base a number of researchers from its Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre on the top floor.

The money has come primarily from the Australian Government (the project is one of only three in Australia supported under its Suburban Jobs Program), with additional funding from the founding partners, Renewal SA and the Playford Alive Initiatives Fund.

“The Australian Government asked for registrations of interest about three years ago and we put in a submission,” Hemmerling said. “In that proposal we said that we needed to approach the future of the north in a different way and that’s what captured their imagination.

“The problem we saw was creating a useful interface between the needs of industry going forward and the needs of the people for employment and the research that sat behind that, which would put us ahead of the game.”

Hemmerling says the university’s involvement as a partner, not just a tenant, will be crucial to the centre’s success.

“We have the full power of a university sitting behind providing well researched information telling us we’re heading in positive directions and this is where the opportunities are,” he said.

He acknowledges that the researchers could do this work from North Terrace, but says their physical presence is important both symbolically and practically.

“It is indeed a partnership working together in the one physical, purpose built, unique facility,” he said. “It is saying to the industries and the people of the north that we’re serious about this and we are coming out to work with you and network with you to provide a framework for future growth in the State.

“The north has got to be the growth area of Adelaide. You can do urban infill, which is a current government strategy, and you can understand that from an economic point of view, but the fact is that the future major growth of Adelaide is in the north.

“The gateway to Adelaide is in the north, all of the big transport links have to come in from the north, the mining industry is out to the north, the major free available land for industrial growth is in the north and the housing is developing in the north.”

While the whole concept has a high-tech feel, the aim is to support any industry that has growth potential.

“Horticulture, for example, is absolutely ready for expansion, particularly into the value-added market,” Hemmerling said. “Look at the Scandinavian countries such as Holland, where they took an industry that was similar to ours and turned it into a value-add commodity and took it to a $2 billion-plus industry.

“We need to have that type of thinking going on in South Australia to further develop our industries out here.”

The Stretton Centre will become a self-sufficient institution and its KPIs will be measured in terms of impact on jobs, innovations and industries in the north.

“You could measure its success on the hard numbers of how many new businesses and how many new jobs are created, or you could measure in terms of the cooperative relationships that develop between the industries in the area,” Hemmerling said

“Another measure is in new technologies in new areas, such as in health particularly home based assistive technologies which is one of the major growth sectors. It could be in terms of the new high-tech industries related to the defence services and mining.”

The new centre is named after Hugh Stretton – one of Australia’s foremost contributors to national urban policy research and practice and one of the University of Adelaide’s favourite sons – and will house both the Stretton Collection, which showcases some of his work, and Playford Council’s relocated Munno Para Library.

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