News that Thornton company UVS has been awarded a $7.2 million subcontract to provide Lockheed Martin with two autonomous underwater vehicles must count among one of the most significant announcements in Hunter manufacturing in recent years.
Not only does this major contract prove that Hunter businesses can compete against the best in the world, it will also have major spin-offs for employment and investment in the region.
The blossoming smart manufacturing sector has been one of the Hunter’s growth industries since the closure of the BHP steelworks in 1999.
It may not have occurred overnight, but the industry’s growth reflects a region that is gaining confidence and strength as it emerges from its industrial past.
It is also a reflection of the support that has been offered to emerging Hunter industries by the University of Newcastle, the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources and CSIRO.
It is worth noting that the federal government’s CSIRO funding cuts, which will no doubt save millions from the bottom line, will have significant negative consequences for regional economies such as the Hunter.
On a brighter note, the Regional Development Australia announcement late last year that it plans to increase trade links with the European Union is a bid to capture a greater slice of the $80 billion market can only be a good thing for Hunter manufacturing.
Significantly, the push coincides with the creation of a ‘smart specialisation’ strategy, which matched the European Unions’ approach to economic development and trade.
The growth of smart manufacturing in the Hunter can only become more important in the coming years as the coal mining industry tapers off.
This point was highlighted this week with the release of new data showing that coal industry’s contribution to the Hunter shrank by $1.1 billion last year, even though it still accounted for nearly a quarter of the region’s economy.
While the mining and coal industries will always be a proud part of the Hunter’s legacy, a large part of its future prosperity lies in the growth of smart industries.
All levels of government have a role to play in ensuring that this growth continues to occur in a steady and sustainable fashion.
Issue number 48, 168