Future Directions

With the world facing economic turmoil, and stock markets spinning out of control, what can councils achieve in this turbulent environment in their local area? Despite the gloomy headlines, Knox City Council Manager Strategic and Economic Development Kim Rawlings sees a strong future for economic development in Local Government.

While some believe that Local Government has little or no role in economic development, Kim has a different view.

Kim Rawlings said the economic development unit at Knox provides a first point of contact between business and Council.

"We believe economic development in the Local Government context is both about servicing and supporting our business community, with a growing role in strengthening our economy and other communities."

"Economic development needs to diversify from its traditional and well understood role, which is primarily about local business support."

"More and more, it needs to be about building strategic alliances, partnerships and new forms of urban governance, which are necessary to build and sustain a more resilient economy and communities."

With more than 14,000 businesses within the municipality, including many multinational corporations based in Knox, the City in Melbourne's south east has an excellent mix of high quality employment precincts, open space and attractive residential neighbourhoods that make it a sought after metropolitan business location.

Knox City Council is strongly focused on assisting businesses of all sizes and has achieved a great deal of success in boosting Knox's economic growth.

It is no accident that economic development and strategic planning are integrated at Knox City Council.

Kim Rawlings said the economic development unit plays an important role in shaping the City's current and future vitality, prosperity and in assisting the City's role as a leading Victorian business location.

In wider terms, she sees Local Government as having a clear strategic role in economic development within the municipality and beyond.

She points to the South East Melbourne Innovation Precinct (SEMIP) as an excellent approach to the issues of economic development that could apply across the country.

SEMIP is a collaboration that involves the City of Kingston, City of Knox, City of Monash, City of Greater Dandenong, CSIRO, Monash University, the Australian Synchrotron and key business leaders.

Building on existing strengths of the region, the SEMIP Strategic Plan provides potential for significant long term job creation for the Victorian and Australian economy.

"It draws upon enormous untapped potential and considerable strengths to compete internationally," she said.

"This includes the Australian Synchrotron, Monash University, CSIRO's largest Research and Development site, Southern Health and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication."

"This is a model for economic development across the country, where Local Governments look at their strengths and collaborate to build effective partnerships to leverage these assets."

Kim Rawlings said the precinct had recently won a prestigious national economic development award when Economic Development Australia recognised it as the top achiever in strategic planning.

For the future, Kim Rawlings sees many opportunities for economic development, including the innovations that will come about due to the carbon tax.

"There is a strong interest in renewable energy projects in Australia and a growing role for Local Government supporting its communities to adapt," she said.

"There is a range of economic opportunities as we become more a part of the digital economy and encourage our businesses and communities to do the same."

"There are immense opportunities for improving the way we live and work and interact in our cities and communities.

"We need to be open to new forms of urban governance to advance economic development."

Kim Rawlings sees the major obstacle to economic development In Local Government being the sometimes narrowly defined understanding of it. "Economic development needs to be understood as something far more strategic and fundamental to the business of Local Government and not just another service. We need to enable true partnerships to be built around strategic investment and development frameworks, which can deliver initiatives for our communities and regions. This will require a more strategic approach to economic development with strong and innovative political leadership."