It’s essential for the state to continue to encourage the entrepreneurial mindset we see among so many of our small- to-medium business customers.
Making up 97 per cent of Tasmania’s 36,000 businesses, the SME sector is the backbone of the state’s economy.
The ongoing success of this sector will depend on its ability to be bold in an effort to adapt to an ever-changing marketplace - one which embraces new economy industries.
Pleasingly regional cities including Launceston are already producing more output in new economy industries such as finance, education, health and professional services.
Although this may not come as a surprise to many, it’s China which represents the biggest opportunity for Tasmania, as the world's fastest-growing source of travellers. Chinese visitors to Australia are expected to reach 3.3 million a year by 2026.
Tasmania has already done an outstanding job of marketing itself to the Chinese tourist. While the tale of China-loved Bobbie the Lavender Bear is well documented, there are hundreds of local tourism operators considering all aspects of their business and how they can better cater for Asia’s rising middle class.
We also mustn’t forget domestic tourists who spend an average of 8.6 nights in Tasmania, giving operators from across the state further revenue opportunities.
Blue Derby Pods Ride, which celebrated its first anniversary in April, is just one example of a company which has carved out a niche experience for domestic travellers.
Owner and recently announced Tasmanian Young Achiever Award winner, Tara Howell, believes Blue Derby’s offering is completely unique with no other Australian company providing a similar experience.
The value in their offering is not in one single thing – it's in the entire experience which includes meals made using Tasmanian produce and accommodation in contemporary, luxury pods located on the Derby mountain bike trails.
As well Australia’s eastern seaboard, the company has also been successful in attracting visitors from the UK and US.
China purchased more than $A10 billion worth of Australian agriculture exports in 2017, making it the single largest market for Australian agriculture.
Companies such as Tasmania’s Mawbanna-based Blue Hills Honey are already realising Asian trade opportunities.
Blue Hills exports about 70 per cent of its production across Asia, the UK, Russia and Germany and is now struggling to keep pace with soaring export demand. Tasmanian manuka honey in China can be seen on-shelf for upwards of $A80 a jar.
Supplying China and other large markets such as Indonesia is not without its challenges. Market access remains elusive for many products and those with access such as Tassie apples and cherries will need to consider China’s food security and safety regulations and scale of supply.
As Tasmania faces disruption and a transition into the new economy, industries need to continue to address education as a state priority.
It’s been pleasing to see a huge amount of progress in this space such as the consolidation and relocation of the teaching facilities of The University of Tasmania.
This has the potential to boost Northern Tasmania’s economic output and employment and create on-flow benefits for the residential property and business services sectors.
Investment in education and initiatives to increase education completion rates and non-school qualifications should also be prioritised.
This can help to position Tasmania as a knowledge-economy, aid the transition to the new economy industries and enhance the employment prospects of Northern Tasmanians.
Greater attention should also be given to attracting more international students to Tasmania given education remains Australia’s third largest export reaching around $A28 billion in value in 2016-17.