Gunnedah has been told there is more opportunity than ever in the manufacturing and processing industries and that the region is poised to take advantage.

The Gunnedah Times and representatives from Gunnedah’s business community heard from a series of guest speakers at the Smithurst Theatre. The speakers discussed themes such as NSW’s advanced manufacturing future, commercial recycling and circular economies as well as regional manufacturing, processing capacity and growth.

Guest speakers included NSW Modern Manufacturing Commissioner Lisa Emerson, who has more than 30 years experience in manufacturing across a range of sectors in Australia and the United States, including at biotech company Saluda Medical and medical devices company Cochlear Limited. 

Since starting in her role as commissioner in September, Ms Emerson has focused her efforts on the development and implementation of a strategy to grow manufacturing capabilities in NSW. 

The strategy aims to create new employment opportunities and drive economic success for the state, especially in regional areas like Gunnedah.

“When I come to the regions I see incredible opportunity,” Ms Emerson said.

An interim report to government titled ‘Making it in NSW’ identified key themes to improve the state’s manufacturing sector including more support for structured collaboration; a new approach to public procurement; targeted business support programs and a coordinated program of support for skills and training.

During her presentation to guests at Gunnedah, Ms Emerson explained how NSW’s manufacturing sector is the biggest in the country.

She thought there were big gains to be made by regional manufacturers from pooling shared resources such as logistics and processing. But an area in need of improvement is the grant application process.

Ms Emerson said it “broke her heart” to hear about grant applicants who had heavily invested in time or money – sometimes spending tens of thousands of dollars in consultancy fees – only to be unsuccessful in the grant outcome.

“This needs a lot of work,” she said.

“There is huge cost in time or hiring consultants. It breaks my heart to hear they’ve paid $25,000 and not been successful.”

Also sharing his thoughts on the future of regional manufacturing was industry expert, Michael Sharpe.

As chairman of the Sharpe Family Office, Mr Sharpe is involved with a range of organisations across engineering, infrastructure, energy, environmental sustainability, the Australian space industry and the global nuclear industry. 

He is also the director of the AUKUS Forum regarding the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. He served as the national director for industry at the Australian government’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, founder of the Nuclear Skills Forum; chairman of the Australian Research Council’s Micro Recycling Hub; advisor to the National Space Industry Hub and chairman of the steering committee for the Australian government’s Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub.

Mr Sharpe was also confident that regional areas like Gunnedah stood to benefit from Australia’s rediscovery of domestic manufacturing.

He urged manufacturers and entrepreneurs to shoot for the stars in terms of their dreams and aspirations.

“It seems we live in this time when we never say never,” Mr Sharpe said.

He described how Australian mining technology is being used in space and a company which developed composite tanks used for transporting acid, is now exporting the idea to the United States with complementing uses in space and nuclear technology.

Also delivering a presentation at the Gunnedah forum was University of NSW (UNSW) Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Centre’s head of manufacturing, Anirban Ghose and UNSW commercial manager, Mark Sterbic. 

They detailed the university’s micro-factories which transform problematic waste materials, such as glass, textiles and plastics, into new value-added materials and products, such as engineered green ceramics for the built environment and plastic filament as a ‘renewable resource’ for 3D printing.

Mr Sharpe described waste as the next frontier in modern manufacturing.

“Garbage tips are the mines of the future,” he said.

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