Kerren Smith of J Smith and Sons, with the firm’s engineering manager Kevin McDonnell and their new Hydrapede, at the firm’s Gympie factory.
Kerren Smith of J Smith and Sons, with the firm’s engineering manager Kevin McDonnell and their new Hydrapede, at the firm’s Gympie factory. Craig Warhurst

Decision time for Gympie

GYMPIE has emerged from the world financial crisis as an innovative exporter of engineering brainpower and a driving force – literally – behind Australia’s revitalised mining industry.

But that may not last, according to J Smith and Sons principal Kerren Smith, unless governments at all levels smarten up their act.

Among other inventions which have made the firm one of Australia’s leading manufacturers of transport equipment and specialist trailers, the Gympie company has now begun marketing its Hydrapede powered trailer, currently already sold to major mines in Queensland and the Pilbara.

The Hydrapede is the equivalent of another prime mover in the trailer combination, allowing the use of more conventional transport equipment and the more efficient shifting of much larger loads directly from the pit to the port or railhead.

Needing only one-third the road width of a giant mining dump-truck, which can only travel short distances, it can enable a large B-triple to haul the same load directly from the pit for much greater trucking distances.

Produced over 10 years of intense research and development, it is the kind of new product that has given the Smith brand a prominent place in transport and mining internationally.

But for that to continue, particularly in Gympie, Mr Smith says governments need to be as “smart” as they expect industry to be.

“We believe in Australian manufacturing. We’re committed to it,” he said yesterday.

“Our total plan is to build new efficient premises in Gympie, but if we can’t, we have to look at it from the shareholders’ point of view,” Mr Smith said.

He says his company has encountered nothing but trouble trying to maintain its commitment to Australia and particularly to manufacturing in Gympie.

“Our planned industrial estate near Woodum Road achieved Main Roads Department approval, but with $70 million worth of conditions. That’s too much on a $20 million project.”

He says the well known Gympie firm and the jobs it provides are at a crossroads, with the possibility that it may be forced to leave Gympie and perhaps to start manufacturing offshore altogether.

“We have equipment being manufactured under licence in India now, with the ‘Smith’ brand. That’s for their local market.

“One option for us might be to switch our manufacturing there.

“It’s a shame we lost Masters Engineering. We would have been close to spending $500,000 on labour there in three months alone.

“That’s gone to Caboolture now,” he said.

“Out of current projects for the next six months, we’ve probably got, in labour only, about $2 million worth of work being built outside of town.

“That would compare to about 40 people employed,” he said.

“Manufacturing in this country is a dinosaur. They say we can’t have protection because it’s bad for productivity, but we need to be weighted for things our competitors don’t have to face, like higher wages and safety standards. I’m not against those things, but our competitors don’t have them,” he said.

“Just to get an approval to develop land and get ready to build a plant on it would take at least two to three years. Particularly in regional towns, if you have to wait two or three years to get started, the business opportunity will pass you by,” he said.

Gympie Times


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