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Queensland’s exports are on the rise.

Active ImageWith recent state government initiatives pushing growth in new areas, Cameron Bayley finds exporters are being asked to use their smarts to get ahead.

Queensland has an average of 300 days of sunshine annually, hence its ‘sunshine state’ title. Things are looking just as bright for its overseas trade, and most recent statistics show that its export is leaving the rest of the country a little in the shade.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Queensland’s overseas goods exports increased by 41 percent in the first nine months of the 2005–06 financial year. This is almost double the national increase for the same period, which is just under 21 percent. "There are Queensland companies doing business in the furthest corners of the globe," says Cameron MacMillan, state manager for Austrade in Queensland. "Which is a great sign that exporters are getting a bit adventurous and realising that they need niche markets, and there are niche markets out there for them."

Innovation was one of the primary factors behind the Queensland Government’s Smart State Strategy, released last year. "The strategy documents the Queensland Government’s vision of a state where knowledge, creativity and innovation drive economic growth," says Angela MacDonagh, deputy director-general of trade and international operations for the Department of State Development, Trade and Innovation. MacDonagh says pushing knowledge-intensive exports was a key driver behind the 10-year strategy, which comes on the tail of the success of the Export Solutions Strategy, launched in 2001, based specifically on this area of export. "Export Solutions recognises that the knowledge economy is not limited to new or emerging industries, and that ‘traditional’ industries are rich sources of innovation, expertise, and know-how that are in demand in international markets," she says.

Since the launch of Export Solutions, MacDonagh says Queensland has increased knowledge-intensive exports to $3 billion over 2004–05, which is an increase of almost 30 percent. These exports include information technology, biotechnology, software development, and education.

MacMillan says success in these areas means the state is primed to enter new markets as they develop. "The state is widely recognised for its innovation and that’s why it is having a lot of success in areas like biotechnology," he says. "And that’s why it seems to be one of the states that is equipped to respond to growing markets, particularly China and India, so it’s a combination of innovative Queensland companies and assistance from both federal and state government."

Traditional Export Market

Active ImageTop exports for the state, however, remain in the traditional produce market, with agricultural and mineral sectors leading the way. Coal remains the largest export for the state, worth nearly $10 billion over the 2004–05 financial year, and almost a third of the state’s total exports. Meat products and metals such as zinc, lead and copper, also figure very highly.

Service exports are taking off for the state, and have grown significantly over the last decade. ABS statistics show the state’s services exports total $6.7 billion, about a fifth of Queensland’s total, and it is the fastest growing industry in the state. "Major services would be tourism, education, and then services associated with established industries, like mining, IT and agriculture," says MacMillan. And although Queensland does seem to be going through a growth period of exports, there is still plenty to explore, he adds. "Now is a good time for mining services, particularly with the global resources boom. Now is the opportunity, particularly for Queensland and Australian mining services companies, to make some real inroads into global markets."

SMEs are also taking their products and services overseas, and currently make up 11 percent of the state’s exporters, primarily in areas such as manufacturing, wholesale trade, business services, transport and storage, and retail trade, according to the Department of State Development.

In terms of where the state’s exports are heading, location is everything. "Our close proximity to South-East Asia has got to be a huge advantage for the region," says MacMillan. "A lot of Queensland companies are making huge successes in South-East Asia and the Pacific." Statistics from the state’s Export Statement for the last financial year show Japan receives nearly a third of the state’s exports. South Korea and China are the next biggest markets, with Taiwan and Indonesia also making it into the state’s top 10 exports. Other big markets for Queensland’s exporters include the US, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Assistance for Exporters

Active ImageThe Queensland government provides a variety of assistance for exporters. "The Queensland Government aims to help Queensland business win more export dollars through targeted service," MacDonagh says. "It provides a range of export assistance services through its network of domestic and international offices." The department includes export market teams in Brisbane, which cover key export regions for the state, such as Asia and the Middle East, as well as 10 overseas trade and investment offices, a state representative in Qatar, and a business adviser in Vietnam. And representatives in Brisbane have high level contacts—in both government and the private sector—in key export markets, and lead trade missions to these markets.

Through the Department of State Development, the Export Passport and Export Pathways programs offer seminars and workshops for would-be exporters to explore the option of moving into international markets, and how to maximise their potential to do so. The department also offers a free mentoring program, and under the Queensland Industry Development Scheme (QIDS) provides funding for businesses to hire a dedicated export manager.

Other funding options include the International Trade Show Assistance Program, which helps SMEs in the ICT and biotechnology industries to attend and exhibit at trade shows, and QIDS and the Small Business Acceleration Program both offer funding for business growth which can assist exporters.

"Fortunately, federal and state governments and even local governments can see the benefits of international trade," says MacMillan, who reports that 15 percent of the Export Market Development Grants distributed through Austrade went to Queensland exporters (with almost half going to new exporters). "There is significant assistance available to exporters who want to take on international markets, and from many areas."

On top of the range of services available through Austrade, he names chambers of commerce and industry associations as other bodies exporters can consider approaching for advice and assistance. Within the state government, he points agricultural exporters towards the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, who have their own export strategy, as well as AusIndustry, who can provide assistance for product development. So while many companies like to take the lone road, it’s not always necessary, he says. "Sometimes we like to cut our own track, a lot of the tim
e you don’t need to—it’s a lot easier than that."

As the huge growth in service exports has shown, there are more opportunities on the horizon, and MacMillan is confident the future is even sunnier. "I think given the buoyancy of the global economy and given Queensland companies’ propensity to want to go out there and market products, it can only be positive."

Successful Export Case Study

Active ImageOne of Queensland’s export successes is taking advantage of a part of the state most people probably take for granted—3,000 feet up.

Becker Helicopters has been exporting its helicopter training to students from all parts of the globe since 2001, and a large part of the appeal is the available airspace. "We have good weather, good airspace, it’s a very safe flying environment, and we need to tell that to the world," says Jan Becker, who founded the company with her husband, Mike, in 1996. "We still have the ability to do a lot of night-flying unencumbered. There’s good traffic, but it’s not completely congested."

And Becker and her husband didn’t waste time getting into the export market. "We felt there was a global training arena," she says. "We didn’t want to rely on one economy or one exchange rate." While Australia has a good reputation for training, the set-up is also perfect for flying itself, especially Queensland. "In Australia, particularly up here, we get seven months of sunshine a year—one of the highest averages in the world."

They now have students coming in from almost everywhere. Europe and the United States are their two largest markets, but others include India, Asia and the Middle East. "We are trying to expand our market place into other areas, and gain some corporate contracts," Becker says. And as well as flight training, they also produce a range of training books and videos that are sold internationally.

Active ImageBecker is a big fan of both federal and state government assistance, namely Austrade and the Department of State Development. "They’re part of our success," she says happily of the specific benefits each was able to provide. "State Development was the absolute cornerstone of our success in Hong Kong." Funds from the Queensland Industry Development Scheme, run through the department, helped when they needed to get writers and developers on board to rework their syllabus for Hong Kong cadets. Austrade has also been helpful in setting up meetings with important business decision-makers, especially in Asia. "And their advice is very good," she adds.

Recent world events, such as September 11, the Bali bombings, the SARS outbreak, the war in Iraq and associated fuel cost increases, have made it especially hard on the industry, and it’s only just recovering now. The company had to sell off some assets and cut staff by half, just to survive. "You have to go back to your basics," Becker explains. "You just hunker down and ride out the storm."

One thing Becker Helicopters won’t ever compromise on is their standards. This means continually updating their website and training materials, and making sure all emails get a personal response. "Those things are frustrating because you feel like you’re never done, but that’s also the dynamic side of it," she says.

Like most exporters, they’re always looking for new markets, but know it requires patience. And Becker is hopeful: "It’s just chipping away. If you want to eat a whole elephant you just have to eat it one bite at a time."

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