Food and beverage stories
Quick response in N-W jobs crisis
A prompt State Government response and several unrelated private sector announcements have calmed a sense of crisis in north-west Tasmania over Caterpillar’s decision to move machinery production from Burnie to Thailand.
The Government set up a Caterpillar Transition Taskforce with $3 million funding and staged an Advanced Manufacturing Summit in Burnie on 17 May.
Eleven days later, it unveiled a $34 million Budget allocation to bolster the north-west economy.
The Burnie summit, which attracted about 70 businesses, took place on the same day as food business Lion unveiled a $150 million modernisation of its Burnie cheese plant.
While only about 30 direct jobs will be created in the highly automated plant, its increased capacity promised further employment growth in the region’s buoyant dairy industry.
A few days later, forestry business, Forico, said about 100 direct and indirect jobs would be generated when its woodchip mill at Surrey Hills, south of Burnie, starts operating next month.
The Advanced Manufacturing Summit drew many CEOs, as well as hands-on workers in hi-vis clothing, many of them motivated to give up an afternoon by the sense of crisis in the region following Caterpillar’s decision to terminate 280 jobs in the struggling north-west city.
Unlike many similar Tasmanian events, the summit was not dominated numerically by politicians and bureaucrats.
Most of the Liberal Party Cabinet turned up, but bureaucrats were hard to find and those who did attend were told quite firmly by the Minister for State Growth, Matthew Groom, that they were there to listen.
The same instruction applied to politicians and there were few incidents of non-compliance. Industry representatives did most of the talking.
After an introductory session that set the scene at a global and local level, delegates rotated through five workshops that listed current problems and proposed solutions with a 2020 target date.
The workshops dealt respectively with: innovation/technology/R&D; new markets/investment; collaboration; continuous improvement; and branding.
The outcome was characterised by Mr Groom, as the very useful start of a conversation.
Burnie’s Mayor Anita Dow said the Government needed to play an active role in further promoting the Tasmanian brand.
“Our manufacturing expertise needs to be sold on a national and international level,” she said.
The State Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, John Short, said employers in the south had expressed interest in the displaced Caterpillar workers.
“From what I’ve heard from some companies, it wouldn't surprise me if there were up to 100 jobs available down south for boilermakers, welders, draughtsmen and people like that,” he said.
Food giant Lion said its Burnie Heritage Cheese plant was now the southern hemisphere’s largest specialty cheese factory, able to process up to 110 million litres of milk a year into value-added products.
Spokesman Peter West said robots would pack the cheese to be sent to interstate and Asian markets.
“It’s probably the most stainless steel in any one location, if you can imagine something being put into a box fully done by robots, put in a pallet by robots,” he said.
“It’s just amazing technology the whole way through.”
Site Manager, Todd Clarke, said the factory would employ up to 280 people, depending on seasonal demand.
The Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Jeremy Rockliff, said: “Already we have more than 400 registered dairy farms employing about 2,600 Tasmanians, and our cheese industry on its own is worth more than $350 million, with almost 7 per cent of that from overseas exports.
“This investment by Lion will increase its production [capacity] from 11,000 tonnes to 26,000 tonnes and clearly shows that confidence in our high-quality and safe dairy produce is booming.”
The Heritage Cheese project has been described as the biggest food manufacturing development in Australia for a generation.
Meanwhile, Forico, which owns 100,000ha of former Gunns’ hardwood plantations across the State, has invested about $20 million into refurbishing two woodchip plants in northern Tasmania.'
CEO Bryan Hayes said the $10 million refurbishment of the Surrey Hills Mill, south of Burnie, would increase efficiencies, as well as creating employment.
Forico exports about 500,000 tonnes per year from the Port of Burnie and expects this to double when the mill at Surrey Hills is up and running.
The company is also refurbishing its Long Reach Mill near George Town.
In another boost to the embattled sector, the Australian Government has awarded $3.6 million to UTAS towards a $14 million training centre for forest value.
Senator Richard Colbeck said: “Research and development is a key driver of innovation in the forest sector and that’s one of the reasons that this announcement … is so important. It will help set the foundation for a productive, sustainable and profitable future for the industry.
“It is important that we look towards future opportunities and stop viewing the industry through the rear-view mirror.”
That rearward view would include Forestry Tasmania’s earlier announcement that it would be shedding a further 50 jobs.
2 June 2015, Edition 161