Accessing grants advances business growth

AMGC director Michael Sharpe it’s important to inform people that manufacturing is a growing sector.

Manufacturers are increasingly struggling to meet demand in an ever-growing industry, according to Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) director Michael Sharpe. He and other industry experts discussed businesses’ access to capital, at an event held at the University of Technology Sydney(UTS).

“It’s a different conversation that we are having this year compared to about three years ago. The issues back then as we all know were, ‘How is my business going to survive? What should I do to get more customers?’

“Now the conversation is more around, ‘I’ve got so much work, I need people and I need people with the right skills. Where do I find them?’”

Sharpe said informing people that manufacturing is a growing sector is an important part in helping grow the industry and individual businesses seeking suitable people for emerging jobs.

“If the next generation coming through don’t think there’s any prospect in manufacturing we could lose a generation. So for the benefit of all of us and for the benefit of Australia, we need to tell that story. There is a bright future for Australian manufacturing. It’s vitally important and we all have a part to play in that,” Sharpe explained at the AMGC-led event in February.

Government departments were also present to share a number of options businesses have in taking advantage of grant schemes within Australia and New South Wales.

Jobs for NSW director of client engagement Fiona Rose said while researching the industry, Jobs for NSW discovered that fast growth SMEs and early stage businesses are creating significant job growth in the region.

A NSW government Jobs for the Future 2016 report stated that between 2008 and 2014, high-growth SMEs, which make up six per cent of NSW firms, created more than 1 million new jobs. But, Rose said creating jobs can be difficult if the support is not there.

“One of the biggest challenges this group of businesses have is access to capital and accessing the money they need to help their growth,” she said.

“We came up with some products to suit businesses at their different stages. We’ve got performance-based grants for really early-based pre-revenue start-ups. We’ve got debt finance for businesses that have contract revenues coming in and need to access up to $1.2 million.”

As well as this, there are also equity grants for businesses that are more developed, said Rose. Although there are many opportunities with Jobs for NSW and other government organisations, Rose suggested taking time to research the most suitable grants for each business.

“There’s a lot out there, which is fantastic, but make sure you chose the products that are right for you. You don’t want to waste your time on a product that you’re not eligible for that won’t give you that scale you need. Do your research.”

The NSW government also offers funding specifically for energy savings and efficiency. More than $16 million in funding is available through the manufacturing efficiency funding scheme. This funding helps businesses upgrade energy monitoring systems, replace or retrofit old equipment and improve manufacturing processes.

Successful applicants can receive up to $120,000 in matched funding per site for a project that saves gas or electricity. The scheme offers three funding options:

Metering and process optimisation for up to $50,000 per site. This allows businesses to install or upgrade monitoring systems to improve control of machinery and processes.

Simple and energy efficiency upgrades for multiple projects of up to $30,000 per site. This allows businesses to replace or retrofit technologies such as economisers on boilers and variable speed drives.

Measured and verified energy efficiency upgrades of up to $70,000 per site. This allows businesses to implement complex energy efficiency projects such as heat recovery and boiler upgrades. This offer involves verifying energy savings using an internationally recognised method.

NSW government heritage officer David Hoffman said there are factors such as employee behaviour that contribute to energy usage.

“Our programme looks at upskilling for businesses. If you’re running a business you are using energy every single day so you have to understand what the different aspects are that are influencing your bills. Is it stuff outside of your control? Are there factors in terms of the behaviour of your employees’ knowledge, which affect your day-to-day use of energy? When you actually have this platform of an organisational level of management systems you are able to affect those type of things more directly. We want to integrate that whole process.

“Our program looks at a lot of upskilling for businesses and it’s particularly in the three areas of business skills, energy skills and technical skills, which are distinct but also related.

One of the programs on offer is a variety of industry skills training courses. These include:

Energy efficient lighting, which identifies current lighting technologies, controls and upgrade opportunities.

Introduction to energy management, which helps people analyse and understand energy bills and contract negotiations.

Advanced energy management, which gives people a practical knowledge and tools to ensure good energy management practices are put in place.

Battery storage for business, which is designed to help people find out if battery storage is the most efficient method for their business. It teaches business owners how to evaluate quotes and identify risks associated with battery storage systems.

UTS associate dean for the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, Michael Blumenstein, said the university is interested in the industry-university interface. “The research we undertake at UTS has a fundamental role to play. Our research must be grounded in practical outcomes.”

The event brought industry, government and businesses from start-ups to SMEs together for the common purpose of growing the manufacturing industry.