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"I'm well aware of the challenges": Jay sniffs 'optimism' despite unemployment blow

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The state’s highly-touted investment attraction agency has lured almost a billion dollars worth of investment to South Australia and is “well on its way” to meeting its target of creating 6000 new jobs, Premier Jay Weatherill insists.

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Marking the anniversary of his fifth year in office by delivering the keynote address at InDaily’s SA Business Index function today, Weatherill told the assembled industry leaders he is “well aware of the economic challenges SA is contending with”.

But he insists there is “definitely a buzz and a vibrancy” about the city of Adelaide, particularly in its west end, and a “spirit of optimism throughout the state”.

But the day was marked as much by the challenges, with SA reclaiming its dubious crown as the state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

The seasonally-adjusted figures for September, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistic this morning, showed SA improving on the previous month – with the jobless rate down to 6.7 per cent from 6.8. But Tasmania’s rapid-fire improvement from 7.2 per cent to 6.5 means SA is once again lagging the nation, and well behind the national average of 5.6 per cent.

“Certainly, our unemployment rate is too high,” Weatherill conceded.

“This week, as discussion turns to the fifth anniversary of my becoming Premier, there’s no shortage of people willing to remind me of [the] challenges,” he said.

Outgoing SA Premier Mike Rann (right) speaking at a press conference alongside his annointed successor Education Minister Jay Weatherill, Adelaide, Monday, Aug. 8, 2011. Mr Rann announced he will step down on October 20. (AAP Image/Sarah Malik) NO ARCHIVING, LOW RES ONLY

Mike Rann announcing his handover to Weatherill in August 2011 – the transition would see them through to October 20. Photo: Sarah Malik / AAP

Weatherill admitted that “commodity prices remain low [and] our traditional manufacturing base is on the decline, demonstrated most clearly by the looming closure of Holden’s plant at Elizabeth”.

“And we’re being held back by an outdated national electricity market,” he said, continuing the political debate that has raged since the lights when out on SA three weeks ago.

But the Premier insists there is cause for optimism, with record retail turnover in August, returning business confidence and a recent KPMG survey ranking Adelaide as “the most competitive city in Australia”.

“In addition, there are a number of wealth-generating initiatives and long-term opportunities on the horizon,” Weatherill said, highlighting the work of the Investment Attraction agency, chaired by former Bank SA boss Rob Chapman.

“The agency was established with a clear mission – to drive high-value inward investment for SA and to create sustainable jobs… and ultimate success will be judged on its ability to deliver those new jobs,” Weatherill said.

“I’m pleased to report that Investment Attraction South Australia is well on the way to achieving its goal. Since its inception, the agency has secured 12 major projects – creating more than $970 million worth of investment, and generating about 4500 direct and associated jobs.”

He pointed to success stories including an expansion of Inghams’ facilities, New Zealand-based Datacom’s new Tea Tree Gully IT hub due for completion next year and engineering support-services company Babcock International relocating its Mission Critical Services head office to Adelaide from Brisbane.

Weatherill said companies working in key areas identified in his 10 economic priorities were the key to revitalising a flagging economy, listing “wine, IT, housing, construction, wind farms and the emerging ‘Internet of Things’” – the concept of broadening wifi connectivity to everyday objects.

“There’s definitely a buzz and a vibrancy in the city of Adelaide [and] a spirit of optimism throughout the state,” he said.

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