Turbo Charged

Image source: Contributed

As the entrepreneurial capital of Australia, the good folks on the Sunshine Coast don’t think small and they don’t take no for an answer, as Jennifer Swaine discovers.

Main Image: FAN CEO Emma Greenhatch

We are fortunate to live in a region where our people see a bright future; where opportunities exist if they dare to dream and just have a go. And if they can’t find a way to make it happen on their own, they collaborate with others in the pursuit of their goals.

And this is what we are seeing all over the Sunshine Coast with investment and growth everywhere you look, from Noosa to Caloundra. We have the health precinct continuing to expand, the new city CBD is quickly taking shape, and there are new retail, residential, industrial and commercial developments forging ahead, maturing the face of our much-loved region.

The Sunshine Coast Airport is also undergoing a major transformation with the new runway fully operational and greater passenger numbers arriving than pre-covid. In fact, April 2022 saw the busiest month on record for passengers through the airport.

The new runway that came into commission in 2020, will eventually enable us to start flights to select international destinations, and while this is great for tourism, the real gold for our region will be found in the belly of the planes.

Having direct access from our airport to a range of national and international markets is going to be a game changer for many of our local food and drink businesses and producers and will mean that we can deliver our incredible products and fresh produce overseas in true ‘paddock-to-plane-to-plate’ style.

But there is another exciting and very important piece to increasing our capabilities in this area. 

In order to help our many small, unique food and drink businesses, they need to be able to scale up and manage the logistics involved in accessing these markets, and this is not an easy thing to do on your own.

Understanding these challenges after working closely with our businesses over the past seven years, the Food and Agribusiness Network (FAN), together with key industry stakeholders, had a bold vision to create a blueprint for the industry that would overcome the barriers to scale for small businesses.

This vision soon turned into an ambitious project to build Australia’s first purpose-built, food and beverage manufacturing and education hub – unlocking growth, accelerating innovation and creating a national blueprint for collaborative manufacturing: Turbine Precinct.

Designed to drive innovation, reduce barriers to scale and increase productivity for food and beverage manufacturers it made sense that the Turbine Precinct should be located at Sunshine Coast Airport. 

The lofty goals of the project would be achieved through collaboration around common-use infrastructure and manufacturing services, a research and development facility, warehousing and logistics, an expertise hub, meeting and event spaces and an education and training centre.

As the vision gained momentum, support started to roll in and a grant to fund the project was applied for from the Federal Government through the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.

In November 2021 they were awarded $8.78 million to kick start the project. 

At the time, Queensland Drinks Accelerator (QDA) founder Simon Michelangeli said, “Our export-ready facility will work with co-located beverage businesses and a range of contract customers – from Queensland start-ups to global beverage brands.” 

The hard work of many was about to become a reality and, in early March, Turbine appointed experienced Project Director Frances Cayley to lead the multi-million-dollar development. Later that month her remit was broadened, as it was announced that the total funding for the precinct would now be increased to $33.4 million.

The additional funding means the project can reach its goals sooner and will ensure the development of the food and beverage manufacturing precinct, at the Sunshine Coast Airport, will have a catalytic and enduring impact on the food and beverage sector on a scale that has not previously existed in Australia.

A driving force behind the project was CEO of FAN, Emma Greenhatch who knows only too well the challenges its members face when trying to scale and access new markets.

“With such high barriers to growth in our industry, collaboration is key to ensure we have a resilient and competitive food and beverage manufacturing sector into the future,” she said. “Uniquely, the Turbine Precinct will house end-to-end infrastructure and support, that will allow start-ups and SMEs to take a great idea through to commercialisation and export – all in the one location.

“Every grower and food and beverage manufacturer from across the Sunshine Coast region and beyond can benefit from this project, from the R&D and education and training facilities to the contract manufacturing, and advanced manufacturing knowledge hub.”

Ted O’Brien, Martin & Regine Rellstag from Sunshine Cider

A key supporter and advocate of this project is Federal Member for Fairfax, Ted O’Brien who was instrumental in helping secure both funding rounds.

“This massive investment will transform the local food and beverage sector and will create a stronger future for the Sunshine Coast – built on a stronger economy,” Mr O’Brien said. 

“This end-to-end collaborative food and beverage precinct is a world-first, and it will provide lucrative opportunities for businesses at all stages and all sizes to build, scale and export, all under one roof.

“But it’s not just business that will benefit. This project will create lifelong careers for local people. From food technologists to designers and engineers, the Turbine Precinct will create hundreds of highly skilled careers for locals within an industry where the Sunshine Coast will be among the best in the world.” 

The impact of this project will be significant with 131 jobs created during the construction phase; and once operational, 687 ongoing jobs will be created with many of these being high-value manufacturing roles. Once fully operational, wages generated within the precinct are expected to be anywhere from 12% to 60% higher than industry average wages.

Over the long term, Turbine Precinct is expected to boost most industries but the highest uplift in industry value-add will be manufacturing with approximately $300 million in revenue expected to be generated by Turbine’s Project Partners. This will see the Sunshine Coast’s food and agribusiness industry exceed one billion dollars.

With around half of all products produced within Turbine Precinct likely to be exported, the Precinct’s export accreditation and location at the Sunshine Coast Airport will provide seamless access to global markets.

Never before have we seen the type and scale of this project, dedicated to the food and agribusiness sector, in our region. One thing is for certain – with the right combination of skills, drive, ambition and investment we have once again proven that nothing is too challenging for the entrepreneurial talent who call the Sunshine Coast home.

The Turbine Precinct is due to commence operations in early 2024. To find out more visit www.turbine.org.au

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