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SA needs to look beyond its woes


Despite the focus on problems such as high unemployment and low confidence, many South Australian businesses are actually well positioned for future growth, argues Steve Laidlaw.

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Much of the state’s news tends to focus on our challenges. In fact, they are so often repeated that they are too easy to list: the end of car manufacturing, persistently high unemployment, high power prices and an uncertain power supply, low business and consumer confidence. The list goes on.

And that is where South Australia’s problems start: with too much focus on the problems themselves and the negativity that often dominates our view of ourselves.

But we might be in for a shock, because there are positive signs to embrace.

The state’s position at the forefront of the creation of a national space agency is one such sign.

This is a project that will create significant opportunities beyond the high-end manufacturing and engineering companies likely to be involved from day one. Ultimately, it should provide a world where students passionate about science, technology, engineering and maths can work in defence, space, design, and other high-end knowledge areas that will grow from this base. It will be the start of a journey that may one day literally take them to other worlds.

Our space industry is new but, in many ways, it draws on our past successes: manufacturing, education and technology. Rather than fear the loss of the past, we need to celebrate the strengths we possess that provide for future growth.

According to the recent South Australian Business Index, there is a rich field of current success from which the future will grow.

Far from being exposed to changes in only one industry, South Australia’s top businesses boast significant diversity: agribusiness, construction, finance, resources, automotive, food and beverage, defence, retail and many others. It is a solid platform upon which to grow, and readily dismisses the concept that we are perched on a cliff, ready to fall with the closure of Holden.

Perhaps more reassuringly, South Australia’s top businesses are already building future prospects. They are focusing on what they do well, either by being smart about innovation, or being smart about the basics. They are building businesses that need not be thought of as “South Australian” – they are simply good businesses. Ultimately, it is that achievement that we need to unlock the potential for future growth in our state.

Of course, South Australia’s companies face many challenges and will continue to do so.

Some are holding off on investment decisions, taking their cue from an environment of restrained business and consumer confidence. Others face major competition from overseas competition that is often better-resourced and cheaper. It can be a tough road.

The mutual banking sector, of which People’s Choice is a part, has its own challenges. We have limited resources compared to the major banks and yet must continue to invest heavily in technology so our members can do their banking as and when they want.

Without significant regulatory reform, the big banks will also continue to enjoy a significant funding cost advantage.

Every South Australian business has its own challenges, opportunities and the strategies to deal with them. What is clear is that many South Australian business are successfully navigating unprecedented levels of uncertainty and are well positioned for their own, along with South Australia’s, future growth.

South Australia needs to look beyond its woes to its success stories. And we are lucky: they are already there.

Steve Laidlaw is the chief executive officer of People’s Choice, one of Australia’s largest credit unions.

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