Sonja Johnson's vision to put Cairns Way Ahead
THE industrial age is dead. As dead as the rotary dial phone and business card holder. Its demise occurred around the time India and China started exporting goods at less than the hourly rate for middle- income Australia to brush its teeth in the morning.
If we are to compete in this new age, we need to think differently and leverage strengths and assets found in our regional comparative advantage and competitive advantage. And yes, there is a difference.
A region has a comparative advantage when it can produce a product, service or good more efficiently than its competitors. This advantage can be based on differences in production inputs such as availability of natural resources (think two World Heritage-listed sites and fertile agricultural land), labour, skills, capital and technology. A region's comparative advantage underpins the competitiveness of businesses in the region.
Our competitive advantage is created through the combination of different factors, such as business processes, knowledge and capacity to innovate.
To be successful, a business must establish itself as a leader in the market by producing a product or product feature that cannot be easily duplicated by its competitors.
There are, of course, other elements that allow regions to grow including access to international and national markets, human capital, population growth and effective cross-sectoral and intergovernmental partnerships and integrated regional planning.
There is no way Australia can compete with Asia on labour rates or manufactured goods, but we can compete by value-adding services and innovating for surety goods.
As one of few developed tropical economies, our tropical expertise, infrastructure and research capabilities are now uniquely positioned to deliver targeted and field-tested products and services to economies around the world.
Far North Queensland's emerging competitive sectors include natural resource management, agriculture, health, education, energy, architecture and municipal management. Examples include the Tropical Sports Institute and Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at JCU, natural disaster preparedness and response by local councils, the Green Build network, experts at tropical architecture, Ergon's mobile energy distribution and the wider renewable energy sector, Pinnacle Pocket Cattle with its unique Senepol breed better adapted to tropical climates and the Reef Rainforest Research Centre and Cairns Institute research partnerships with Papua New Guinea. With high-speed broadband close, our region is well placed to take advantage of our proximity to South-East Asia and the Pacific and start exporting tropical knowledge.
Yet this alone is not enough.
To continue to build our global presence as the leader of tropical knowledge and expertise, we need to grow our asset base.
JCU's work, alongside that of 13 other tropically based universities in the State of the Tropics report, is an example of Torrid Zone collaboration.
Attracting like-minded tropical universities and technical colleges from around the world will grow our research links and build our international student market.
In addition, support is needed for indigenous communities to export their herbal medicine know-how. Assistance to secure intellectual property rights for this part of our community needs to be made available.
Linking this know-how with multinational pharmaceutical companies and JCU researchers would provide one avenue for economic viability in remote communities.
The Cairns Post invites opinion articles for its Cairns Way Ahead campaign. Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomorrow: Cairns real estate spokesman Greg Clyde-Smith.
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Thinking differently: Sonja Johnson sees ways to grow.