‘It’s a good deal’: Melbourne’s pitch to entice businesses to locate locally

Compared to Brisbane, Armstrong says Melbourne is slightly cheaper but dismisses the Queensland capital as “a big country town” where “if you want access to talent, you really only have one university”.

Armstrong worked at Coles for 14 years before working for the state government in various roles including Invest Victoria and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.

While overseas cities such as Singapore can offer “all sorts of incentives”, Armstrong says Melbourne can win businesses over quality of life and a broader family-oriented package. But the one thing Armstrong says Melbourne can’t compete with is the lure of Sydney Harbour.

Peter Armstrong’s pitch for Melbourne is based on its lifestyle and affordability. Credit:Jason South

“Some businesses are run by sailors and they just want to be there,” he says. “It makes no sense, coming to Melbourne, you’d save $30,000 per job, but they want to sail to Sydney. I could name five companies like that.

The establishment of Invest Melbourne in December last year makes Melbourne the only Australian city with an Investment Promotion Agency (IPA). There are approximately 3,000 such agencies worldwide and Armstrong names Toronto, Montreal and London as other international cities with an established agency.

Agencies compete for ‘free’ investment with around US$1.6 trillion ($2.28 trillion) a year in foreign direct investment available worldwide, although this has fallen by a third during the pandemic.

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“There are 3,000 agencies looking for two-thirds of the dollars,” Armstrong says. “Whether it’s me or my colleagues in State or Austrade, now is a time when you must compete vigorously for that investment.”

Armstrong insists Invest Melbourne’s role does not duplicate the work Invest Victoria and Austrade are already doing.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here,” he says. “These are targeted actions.

A spokesperson for Invest Victoria said it was working with all levels of government to facilitate investment opportunities.

“We have a great relationship with Invest Melbourne and work together in a complementary way to achieve our common goal of attracting new investment,” the spokesperson said.

Investment promotion agencies offer six services: market entry and business case validation, introduction to suppliers, advisors and potential customers, location analysis, intergovernmental approvals, project management and financial support.

Financial support is where Invest Melbourne fails.

“We’re big on the top five,” says Armstrong. “The government has a lot of money and Austrade too.”

Armstrong says the success of Invest Melbourne can be measured by the number of new jobs created and the capital expenditure for the head office, but he says much of that will remain invisible.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp says Invest Melbourne is still in its set-up phase.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp says Invest Melbourne is still in its set-up phase.Credit:wayne taylor

“Good investment promotion agencies, there’s a part of their job that never sees the light of day because you’re sorting things out in the background,” he says.

‘We’ve worked with some great developers that I’ve worked with before, resolving some of their issues so their project can move forward, and we have some wonderful things happening at Bourke Street and other iconic properties that we’ I’m working on it.

While Armstrong says Invest Melbourne wants to be “as nimble and fast as possible” to speed up processes for businesses, the agency will have to do so within the bureaucracy of the city of Melbourne. It took 15 interview requests over a four-month period to age to get an interview with Armstrong.

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City of Melbourne staff attributed the delay to Invest Melbourne sitting between the mayor’s office and the office of council chief executive Justin Hanney.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp says Invest Melbourne is still in its ‘set-up phase’ and is working to appoint an advisory board.

“A big part of what Invest Melbourne will be is to reconcile, to accelerate, to facilitate, to incentivize, to push and to push and to really be part of the wake in which we see this investment and this talent thrive,” she says.

Capp says Invest Melbourne allows the council to localize efforts to attract investment.

“Part of Invest Melbourne realizes that there are already many organisations, including other levels of government, who are also focused on the same goal.”

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