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Hobart - Strong business for better lives

11 February 2019

This opinion article by Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott was published in the Hobart Mercury on Monday 11 February 2019.

Business confidence is high on the island state, and it's clear that one of the biggest challenges facing Tasmanians is to capitalise on the enormous opportunities presented by the current trajectory of growth. 

It's vital to keep fostering new businesses and creating additional, better-paying and sustainable jobs. And to do this, Tasmania needs to attract greater private investment. 

The Business Council supports the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's calls for a strategic and costed infrastructure plan to spur regional development. 

The plan would link to population and transport strategies, focusing on improvements to roads, public transport, education and energy infrastructure. 

These are the critical building blocks to ensure growth across the stat e continues to benefit all industries and sectors including tourism, retail and exports. 

Business is the lifeblood of a thriving country, especially in regional communities. 

Leading economist Saul Eslake points out that Tasmania is arguably Australia's most regional state. 

As Tasmanians make the most the unrivalled lifestyle benefits the island has to offer, they also deserve to have access to good jobs and world class services where they live. 

This is the essence of work-life balance. 

By bringing business and the community together at our Strong Australia lunch event on Thursday in Hobart with Sky News Australia, in conjunction with the TCCI, we can identify new opportunities across the state. 

Together, we want to tackle some of the most pressing public policy challenges facing regional Australia, especially in Tasmania, including affordable energy costs, infrastructure, education, and attracting skilled workers. 

The Business Council is also determined to recognise the vital contribution business makes locally to regional communities, from creating jobs to supporting a network of small business suppliers. 

There are more than 36,500 small businesses powering the Tasmanian economy and these enterprises are responsible for employing almost half of Tasmania's private sector workforce. 

Small businesses in Tasmania also have the nation's highest survival rates, growing in tandem with larger business and industry partners. 

There are few better examples of how strong and expanding businesses can create new jobs, business and opportunities than the impact Incat Tasmania has on the Hobart community. 

The shipbuilder is an Australian success story. 

Designing and building passenger ferries and highspeed military support vessels from its shipyard at Prince of Wales Bay at Derwent Park near Hobart for export around the world. 

Incat directly employs about 650 workers, but the jobs don't stop there. The business works with hundreds of small businesses in the region including engineers, plumbers and painters. 

One of the businesses that partners with Incat is Liferaft Systems Australia, and its managing director Mike Grainger says the level of brand awareness Tasmania is now enjoying is unsurpassed. 

"People are now understanding that this island state is a very special place," Mr Grainger said. 

"It is certainly the flavour of the month. It has a good government that is promoting the state properly and helping businesses like ours to continue to promote the brand of Tasmania. 

"It's an incredibly exciting time to be in Tasmania and I think the future looks extremely positive, providing we can stay on a roll and continue to do what we do best," Grainger said. 

While the growth story in Tasmania is promising, challenges in the state remain. 

Despite annual population growth in the state up to 1.09 per cent - the fastest growth in nine years - Tasmania is home to the nation's oldest workforce compared to the other states and also continues to lag on education levels. 

It is crucial as technological changes alter the way Australians will work in the future that Tasmania positions itself to maximise the benefits. 

Technology represents unlimited opportunities for Australians to have higher living standards, greater prosperity, longer and healthier lives and a much better quality of life. 

But we must ensure that benefits of technology are fairly shared. 

It is critical that Australians of all ages, anywhere in the nation, have access to quality skills and training throughout their careers to keep pace with this period of transition. 

This is the basis of the Business Council's futureproof report on reforming the post-secondary system. 

We must remove the cultural bias where vocational education and training is viewed as second-class compared to university. It is not. 

We are advocating for one information system across vocational, education and training and higher education, and one funding system that removes the perverted incentives for everyone to go to university. 

Nowhere is this more important than a state like Tasmania. 

We also want to establish a lifelong skills account that will allow people to access a variety of modules and certificates so they can adapt and stay in the workforce. 

As the state economy grows, we must ensure opportunities are unlocked across the state for all Tasmanians. 

Strong businesses of all sizes hold the key. 

We must remove the cultural bias where vocational education and training is viewed as second-class compared to university. It is not.