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Beyond the gloom, Adelaide has a chance to recreate itself

Opinion

In a post-pandemic world where big cities have lost their lustre and digital innovation has been turbocharged, Adelaide has a unique opportunity to capitalise on its strengths, argues Jodie van Deventer.

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COVID-19 is the ultimate disruptor and while its impact may be temporary, its economic and social legacy will be felt long after a vaccine is found or population-level immunity is reached.

So what does this mean for Adelaide as we move from lockdown and transition into recovery, and how can we minimise the negatives of a worldwide recession or depression while maximising the opportunities such disruption creates?

Throughout history, major crises have reshaped cities and already, the best minds across our state are looking at Adelaide’s future.

In just a few weeks we’ve seen changes that normally would have taken years or decades to achieve: free childcare, doubling of unemployment benefits, an enormous uptake of digital technologies and Adelaide’s homeless being sheltered in hotels, to name just a few.

Suddenly the impossible has become possible. Businesses, schools and community groups have reinvented themselves overnight and are learning to deal with ambiguity and disruption on a scale never seen in most of our lifetimes.

As a city, Adelaide has always struggled to market itself on the global stage but in our current and post COVID-19 world, we have a brand story to tell that others can only dream about.

The fight for global talent and business is real and while larger cities such as Sydney, London and New York mostly attract the lion’s share, being locked inside small apartments and crammed onto public transport where social distancing is impossible suddenly holds less appeal.

Contrast that with a city ringed by parks and fringed by the ocean and hills with overall high levels of low-density living and wide streets; a place with high levels of wellbeing that has all the advantages of big city living minus the congestion and pollution.

And combine that with the fact that the uptake of digital technologies is allowing people to establish and run businesses from anywhere in the world, disrupting the idea of a head office.

If we market ourselves boldly, the next decade could become some of Adelaide’s best for attracting talent and businesses, allowing us to enhance our capabilities and expertise in areas such space, defence, agribusiness, health and medical, mining and more.

With a strong manufacturing past that has suffered over recent decades, talk about sovereign manufacturing capabilities will allow us to revive our history, albeit it in a more high-tech form, opening up real opportunities for South Australia with Premier Steven Marshall referring to a “jobs bonanza”.

And it’s not just manufacturing that will benefit: the risk of off-shore call-centres was so clearly demonstrated with some of Australia’s biggest brands impacted by closures in Manila. With a stable, well-educated workforce and cheaper rentals, we must put ourselves in the front row for much of this business.

As cars remain parked and images of blue skies in places like China and India are broadcast across the world, there are growing calls to use the rebuilding of our global economy as an opportunity to tackle climate change.

South Australia’s strengths in this area, including renewables, water technology and management, wide streets which allow us to explore infrastructure for alternative forms of transport such as e-bikes and initiatives such as Hydrogen Park SA, put us in a strong position to take advantage of this.

There is no doubt the months and years ahead will be tough. We’ll struggle with massive unemployment and mental health issues and while a recession appears inevitable, Australia may even face a depression.

Mass gatherings are likely to be a long way off, impacting on one Adelaide’s major strengths – our outstanding festivals and events.

Global borders will probably remain shut for some time hurting our number one export industry, international education, with economic losses estimated at a staggering $2 billion over the next three years by the Mitchell Institute.

But we’ve never had a better chance to reshape our future; to recreate Adelaide in a way that would have never been possible just a short time ago and create new economic opportunities and a brand story that redefines who we are and puts us on the global stage.

It’s an opportunity we can’t let go to waste.

Jodie van Deventer is chief executive officer of the Committee For Adelaide.

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