Formerly known as ‘The Sunshine State’, Queensland is smartening up, becoming just as well known for its skills in education and manufacturing as its natural beauty.
Home to tropical weather and endless beaches and reefs, Queensland is a source of natural wonder and beauty. But, while continuing to grow a quality reputation for its natural resources and food products, the state is also becoming known for its skills and facilities in education, specialised services and manufacturing.
Ian Brazier, manager of the Queensland Export Adviser Network at Austrade in Brisbane, evokes Charles Dickens to describe the current export environment for Queensland companies: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
As with any state, Queensland has its strengths and weaknesses. Mining and agribusiness remain the pillars of its export success: strong demand from Asian markets, including China and India, has seen resource exports benefit, while the agricultural sector begins to enjoy its first ‘normal’ year in many. Weaker is the manufacturing sector, which “has been struggling to stay competitive in the face of the high Australian dollar, as has tourism,” says Brazier. “Education is holding up against major demographic changes in key markets such as Japan and Korea.”
However, a highly skilled workforce, along with a high standard of living and investment in other industries, has allowed Queensland to broaden its global offerings. “Queensland has been looking to secure a future for its exports well after the current resources boom and far beyond traditional markets for rocks and crops,” says Queensland’s Minister for Trade, John Mickel.
While rural industries and resources continue to flourish, Mickel claims there has been significant growth in knowledge-intensive exports of professional and scientific research services, as well as specialised manufacturing and material-handling equipment.
Requiring intense inputs of technology and human capital, these exports rely on a well-educated and highly skilled workforce of which Queensland has an abundance, according to Mickel, who says this is why Queensland is ‘The Smart State’.
Exports in knowledge-intensive industries have increased by $487 million (12.7 percent) over the 2005-06 and 2006-07 financial periods, from $3.8 billion to $4.3 billion. This growth exceeds that of other states including New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the national average. “We have a strong knowledge-intensive focus for our future exports in sectors including health and biotechnology, water solutions, solar energy, clean coal technology, creative industries, education and aviation as well as information and communications technology,” Mickel says.
The right export environment
Similarities with Asian neighbours in terms of climate also provide Queensland with a competitive edge. When it comes to providing expertise, products and services in areas such as tropical science, building services, vegetation management and consumer products such as cosmetics specifically designed for use in warmer climates, Mickel believes Queensland is a logical supplier of choice in Asia.
Similarly, Brazier says Queensland exporters in the building and construction sector are set to benefit from major projects in the Pacific region as it proves itself as the export gateway to places such as Papua New Guinea. “Despite a slowdown in the recently strong Fiji market, new mining developments in New Caledonia, along with new resources projects in Papua New Guinea, are seeing Queensland exporters active in the region as it builds its reputation as a leader in subtropical and tropical design,” he says.
The creative industries sector in Queensland has also been performing well, Brazier adds. Brisbane was named one of the world’s top music hotspots by USA’s Billboard magazine. The music scene in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley continues to attract international interest via events such as the BIG SOUND Music Industry Conference, which ran from 10-12 September, sponsored this year by Trade Queensland. “As the hub of creative talent, heavy investment from Queensland’s University of Technology into the creative industry is driving further growth in the sector,” Brazier says. “This creative buzz in Queensland is leading to new, innovative companies such as Musicadium, who have established themselves in the global marketplace for digital music distribution.”
Musicadium set up its online infrastructure for artists to cheaply and easily distribute their music to the world via iTunes and Amazon mp3. So far, they have experienced enormous success, distributing more than 400 releases worldwide this year with sales made in New Zealand, Japan, Europe, the UK, US and Canada. For general manager Nick Crocker, Queensland provides an exciting growth area for his business. “New opportunities emerge here every day and there is a sense of possibility here that is unique to Australia.”
Musicadium are currently looking into Austrade’s Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) program. “It’s a fantastic way for exporters to claw back some of their export promotion dollars,” says Crocker.
Many businesses considering exporting for the first time can be intimidated by the uncertainty of entering a new overseas market. A lack of local market and business knowledge is a key contributor to these feelings of uncertainty, says Mickel.
However, there is no lack of support for those seeking help at any stage of exporting. New exporters can access Trade Queensland’s export skills development program, Getting Export Smart, which provides a series of workshops designed to explain the steps in the export process, facilitated by specialist presenters in areas such as export marketing, finance, logistics, export documentation and e-business.
This is designed to take the guesswork out of establishing relationships with distributors and to provide advice on regulations, standards compliance, financial arrangements and a myriad other issues.
Direct one-on-one advice and participation in inbound and outbound trade missions is also provided. Over 2,800 firms received export assistance from Trade Queensland during 2007-08.
Supermarine Aircraft Factory
Mike O’Sullivan officially began his business in kit aircraft manufacturing in 1995 after taking seven years to develop the innovative procedures and manufacturing techniques required to make the very first all metal replica of the World War Two Spitfire. Through the business, Supermarine Aircraft Factory, O’Sullivan admits he had to learn the hard way when it came to exporting, despite 30 years of experience in building aircrafts. “There wasn’t much export happening 17 years ago, so there wasn’t the assistance that’s available now.”
However, O’Sullivan’s determination has allowed home builders worldwide to buy Spitfire kits. With 700 hours of construction work already complete, the kit is shipped to customers in Europe, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Scotland.
O’Sullivan says they now seek government support in terms of marketing and breaking into other countries of interest. He explains getting people to believe in the Australian product proved the biggest hurdle. “The paperwork for Europe is tremendous and we spent years alone trying to complete the air-worthiness documentation for England. We were just one of 10 aircraft passed in 10 years when most other countries probably had 200 or 300 passed.”
For O’Sullivan, understanding your market and what you’re trying to achieve is vital. “The biggest thing for us was ensuring we had the right agents and dealers. People initially take the first one they can get, which is not always the best. We found it very difficult to get someone to understand our product and that’s where we fell initially as you simply can’t do it on your own.”
Perseverance and supporting those in other countries has also been key to Supermarine’s success. “I always knew England would be a buyer of the Spitfire, and the US has been hard to crack. The only reason we’re in there now is because we’ve been going for 17 years.
“We took the time to prove the aircraft to ourselves and within our own shores instead of just throwing it together and trying to market it. Years of development testing made us stand out and meant we didn’t have to redesign it when we took the product overseas. You can’t just walk in and say ‘we’re here and we’re the best’.”