Clarence Cluster Success

It’s all about a vision with a solid strategy behind it. With the realisation that significant infrastructure projects were just around the corner for the Clarence Valley, it was time to get prepared and make sure an opportunity wasn’t missed. Over two years ago Clarence Valley Council, in partnership with NSW Department of Industry, began a process to support businesses to think big by clustering.

A series of industry networking events and consultations began the process with businesses in the engineering, marine and fabrication sectors choosing to be part of a program of activities aimed at improving the competitiveness and productivity of member businesses.

These conversations and actions highlighted a number of issues including the variability that exists between businesses in terms of scale, management frameworks, systems, staff development, resourcing and business development practices. Importantly it also demonstrated an opportunity for the accumulation of scale through collaboration to increase market competitiveness.

“Building trust was the key.” said Clarence Valley Council’s Economic Development Coordinator Elizabeth Fairweather. “Once these companies started to have conversations through networking the rest of the plan became clear.”

“Their willingness to work collaboratively and be honest about their challenges helped us direct the focus and resources to maximise the benefits for the cluster.”

It was an initial focus on tender process knowledge, market readiness, relationship building and resource sharing that built the foundations of today’s success.

The Industry Partnership and Resource Sharing Strategy for the Clarence Valley Marine and Engineering cluster is a strategic response to identified local challenges and opportunities. This actionable regional blueprint has been developed from conversations with industry, government agencies, learnings from other cluster groups and secondary research.

Local businesses have committed to work together to help the whole sector win business, share resources and expertise and to continually innovate to provide the best solutions for clients. We speak to 3 cluster members to find out more.



Tell us a bit about what your company does
Wicks and Parker is a leader in crane hire and steel fabrication. Established in 1927, four generations of the Wicks family have led the company. Many North Coast iconic buildings bear the hallmarks of Wicks and Parker’s expertise including: Grafton Shopping Centre, Grafton Library, Black Toyota building, BCF and adjoining buildings and the Magic Millions Horse Stables Complex. From blacksmiths roots, the business expanded and began manufacturing truck and trailer bodies and components. In 1980 we ventured into crane hire with the purchase of our first mobile crane. Today, the company continues to evolve with an expanded crane fleet, fabrication and structural steel services throughout the East Coast.

Why did you decide to be part of the cluster, what peaked your interest?
I have grown up and lived in the area all my life. I joined the cluster to both keep in touch with events/issues and have an input on ways we can improve local industry. I felt it beneficial to network with companies in the industry for the future possibility of working together on large scale projects.

What are some of the good things that the cluster has done?
The cluster is researching ways we can be more ready and compliant for upcoming major works. One example is organising courses to obtain tickets specific to our industry. They provide regular information updates on the scopes of works predicted in the area and direct us to information offered by other firms on local projects.

What’s your company been able to get out of it?
Our company has been able to anticipate the work that is coming, and expand its crane fleet to accommodate the work as it progresses. On the steel fabrication side we have seen an increase in work in the local area and we’ve increased the number of staff we employ.



Tell us a bit about what your company does
Harwood Marine has operated in the Clarence Valley for over 20 years. Our primary services include ship design, repair and new construction, as well as other marine projects such as specialised wharves and pontoons. While our speciality is marine, we also provide general fabrication and engineering services. We also have a specialised abrasive blasting and painting facility, which compliments the other facets of our business. Location is key and we are well placed along the prime river frontage and only 2kms from the Pacific Highway to service both sea and road transport.

Why did you decide to be part of the cluster, what peaked your interest?
As a small company, we often strike impediments that larger companies do not, due to availability of resources and funds. By working collaboratively, we can share skilled labour when cluster members are at a lull or a peak, whilst improving our company profile in order to attract larger contracts and/or clients outside the Clarence Valley.

What are some of the good things that the cluster has done?
We have had great access to experts to assist our business general operations in areas such as tendering and training. The cluster has put us in touch with other local engineering companies, creating a forum for our businesses sector to discuss where we need assistance to overcome business impediments. We are also able to utilise the services these cluster members offer that we don’t and can steer customers to other cluster members where possible.

What’s your company been able to get out of it?
The experience has assisted our company to gain further knowledge and tools to boost our business profile. We have improved our tendering successes, gained access to funding for training and direct contact to industry experts that know exactly who to talk to and how to approach business impediments we all face in our area.



Tell us a bit about what your company does
Andrew Harris Engineering Pty Ltd has made itself a one stop shop with a large stock of steel, aluminium and stainless steel. This is complemented with a shop of welding consumables, bolts, paints, lifting chains and slings. The workshop comprises of sophisticated metalworking machinery that can cut, punch, fold and roll metal to tackle what ever is required by the client. Being in a small town like Yamba you have to be diverse in what you can provide.

Why did you decide to be part of the cluster, what peaked your interest?
It is always good to be in touch with similar businesses to yourself. Although we are competitors in some way, there is always a certain amount of knowledge or experience that we are willing to share. As a group we are also able to voice our concerns with more impact in getting something done about it.

What are some of the good things that the cluster has done?
By bringing us face to face the cluster has helped break some barriers between the businesses and has showed that we have similar concerns and needs. The cluster has arranged training sessions for our employees to gain extra qualifications. By joining together we had enough numbers for training providers to create courses locally. Clarence Valley Council’s Economic Development Coordinator, Elizabeth Fairweather has liaised with government departments to assist with the needs of some of the businesses that were not aware of such assistance until being in the group.

What’s your company been able to get out of it?
Andrew Harris Engineering has been able to have several employees trained in the local area rather than travelling to Brisbane with all the added costs of doing so. The cluster has also been helpful in connecting us with government agencies to assist with the growth of the business.

These businesses are partners in the Marine and Engineering Cluster sharing trust and openness – and it is this value that provides the premise for the group’s foundation. The project makes a significant statement. It indicates to the market and community that Clarence Valley has a rejuvenated manufacturing sector, one that is embracing change and innovating for success. It’s a landmark moment stablishing a pathway for unlocking the value in this sector, enabling prosperity, productivity and growth.

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