The chamber is taking proactive steps to ensure the region’s businesses are well prepared for any transition as a result of the potential closure of the Tiwai Point alumnium smelter in December, while remaining supportive of its continued operation.
In May last year, the chamber secured five years’ funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) for an initiative known as the Southland Engineering & Manufacturing Cluster.
This innovative programme aims to map and enhance the capability of Southland’s engineering and manufacturing sector, positioning it to seize opportunities.
A key focus is to attract a skilled workforce to the manufacturing engineering industry, addressing a critical priority in the region.
Chamber chief executive Sheree Carey said the initiative was significant.
"Being able to secure MBIE funding for five years has meant we’ve been able to establish the Southland Engineering & Manufacturing Cluster to map and build capability in this sector to ensure they’re ready to diversify into new industries and grab opportunities locally, nationally and internationally," she said.
"While preparing for a closure we are hopeful that Tiwai will be a part of the Southland community and economy for many years."
It is estimated that the smelter provides jobs directly for 750 people and supports an additional 2500 jobs in the region. Moreover, it produces about 330,000 tonnes of aluminium annually, of which a significant portion is exported.
The smelter has not confirmed whether it will close at the end of the year and it is all dependent on the power price it can secure for operations.
The chamber firmly believed in the co-existence of the smelter and the introduction of new industries, such as hydrogen production.
"It is not a choice between one or the other but rather an opportunity to harness the benefits of both.
"This project is transformational not just for Southland but nationally, as the successful pilot model can be rolled out across other regions."
At the heart of this transformative effort lies the newly established Southland Innovation Centre. With the countdown to December 2024 under way, the centre serves as the epicentre of preparations, fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth in the region.
As technology continues to advance, the manufacturing engineering industry is poised to benefit greatly from increased automation and digitalisation, providing new avenues for growth and competitiveness.
The Southland Business Chamber, along with its partner organisations, is committed to ensuring Southland remains a hub of economic activity, innovation, and a magnet for a skilled workforce.
— Staff reporter