The leader of the state's peak body has praised Ballarat businesses for adapting to the COVID-19 crisis - and said the next few months will be key for many.
Tim Piper, the Victorian head of the Australian Industry Group, said industry had pivoted impressively, with many local manufacturing businesses still operating during the recent pandemic restrictions.
However, he said the sector was now entering a crucial period, as pre-COVID-19 manufacturing orders are completed - with higher uncertainty about what is to come.
Meanwhile the Committee for Ballarat CEO Michael Poulton told The Courier he believed there was now an opportunity to expand manufacturing jobs connected to the renewables sector.
He believes the crisis could prompt greater focus on quality assurance, in terms of goods, their production methods and the workplace - shifting away from a current emphasis on price - which he believes could be positive for the local manufacturing sector.
Mr Piper paid particular tribute to the Ballarat food manufacturing businesses, which he said had faced particularly big challenges in their operations in recent months.
"(Their) processes weren't designed for social distancing," he said. "There has been a reduction in efficiencies, but they have kept COVID-free. That's been very important to our general community."
He said that while manufacturers in the area had continued to keep the assembly lines moving in recent months, many companies were now entering a crucial phase.
"We've been resilient," he said. "The orders we had coming into COVID have all now been dealt with. It's the next period of orders that we are worried about.
"My concern over the next three months is whether they have the orders to continue with the level of manufacturing they have had."
Ballarat is a very forward thinking manufacturing centre - it punches above its weight in manufacturing and innovation.Tim Piper, CEO AI Group
His view on the continuity of businesses since restrictions were introduced has chimed with several manufactures, many of whom have said they have noticed little effect on their order books in the past couple of months.
Well-known local industrial textiles manufacturer Bartlett told The Courier there had been some issues due to COVID-19 but the outlook remained positive.
"We have been quite fortunate that the pandemic has not greatly impacted our business from an operational perspective," Bartlett CEO David O'Brien said.
While he acknowledged some lulls due to challenges customers had faced, he sounded an upbeat note about the immediate future, saying the business was "already seeing some positive forecasts for the back half of the year.'
One of the keys in the months to come, Mr Piper said, would be the state of the construction market - and how much stimulus it receives.
"Manufacturing is very important to the construction industry and vice-versa. (Any government support) that comes into the construction industry will help manufacturers."
This week's news of cash grants of up to $25,000 to help building new homes will no doubt be welcome.
Help is needed: while the Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index went up to 41.6 last month, it still remains in deeply contracted (50 indicates static growth) - although Mr Piper said Australia's situation still compared very favourably to many European countries.
He said agriculture had been boosted due to recent rains, and that was also having a positive knock-on effect on orders going into Ballarat.
If the local region could continue to invest in research and development and keep new products going, he said it would position the city well for recovery.
"Ballarat is a very forward thinking manufacturing centre - it punches above its weight in manufacturing and innovation."
In a similar vein, Mr Poulton said he loved the enterprise local companies had shown since the onset of COVID-19 measures.
He reeled off several names including Deutscher Beds, Haymes Paint, Westlab and Gekko as examples of companies who had adapted well.
"The other component is the collaboration," he said.
"There is a sense of collaboration in this town that is pretty special."
For Mr Poulton "clean and green technologies" offer one of the ways out of the crisis.
"Ballarat is doing some really good things in that space already," he said, citing examples of McCain, Mars, and Central Highlands Water using their own renewable sources. We have shown that our industry is pretty ready to adapt."
As well as pointing towards the potential for greater emphasis on quality assurance, he noted the vulnerabilities exposed by dramatic shutdown in global economic activity.
"In times of crisis, you've got to be able to find supply yourself," he said.
The theme was also recently taken up by the local Federal member Catherine King. She described the global crisis as "an opportunity to reset the way we live and work."
She told The Courier: "We know that all businesses are doing it tough at the moment, but as we come out of this crisis we will have a decision to make about what sort of country we want to be.
"As we come out of this crisis, we should be building and manufacturing things here in Australia, whether that be trains or the components used on major infrastructure projects.
"We have a proud history of building things like that in Ballarat, and governments at all levels should ensure that continues and grows."
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