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It is no secret that the Australian economy is transitioning to a digital future, and that all industries will be affected. As Malcolm Turnbull announced in the launch of his innovation agenda last December, the way forward for Australia is innovation and technology rather than a reliance on natural resources.

However, some industries are being disrupted before others, leaving entire communities affected. One such community is Geelong, which earlier this month saw the closure of its long-standing Ford factory.

Among the new initiatives looking to guide the city from its manufacturing past into the digital future is a new Future Fibres Hub, an Australian Research Council research and development centre based at Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus.

The $13.2 million centre, funded through the Federal Government’s Industrial Transformation Research Programme and the Australian Research Council, will be tasked with leading the development of future fibre-based materials, from short polymer fibres for the medical, textile, and industrial sectors, and carbon fibre composites for the automotive industry.

Launching the centre, Deakin Vice Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander said the centre will benefit not just the community, but Australia. She said it will help position Australia as a leader in fibres research and development and provide jobs in Geelong.

“We are delighted to lead this important project which will help us to create not just the jobs of the future, but also the materials of the future,” she said.

“It will allow us to continue to make important advances in medical procedures such as human tissue engineering, through to safer clothing for activities like motorcycle racing and better, lighter and cheaper carbon fibre materials for the automotive sector.”

The centre will be led by Deakin, with collaboration from Swinburne University of Technology and industry partners HeiQ, Carbon Revolution, Quickstep Automotive, Draggin Jeans, and Ear Science Institute Australia.

CSIRO and international institutions including MIT, the University of Oxford, and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology will also conduct work at the centre.

The launch of the centre comes as the latest in a line of initiatives looking to help Geelong move on from automotive manufacturing.

Runway Geelong was in August awarded $1.25 million over four years from the Victorian Government’s startup body, LaunchVic, to help establish a startup hub in Geelong. Through the provision of access to mentoring, networks, training, and access to funding, the hub will look to be a catalyst for innovation in the city and the wider region.

Also receiving a grant from LaunchVic’s first funding round was a project from Deakin University and Dimension Data. The organisations received $450,000 to set up a cyber security incubator to help accelerate development of new cyber security solutions and intellectual property; the incubator will go hand in hand with a new cybersecurity degree set to launch at Deakin University next year.

While these initiatives will look to create jobs in the future, hoping to have a more immediate impact is Pollenizer, which announced it will be holding ‘career exploration’ workshops in Geelong following the closure of the Ford plant.

Called ‘Next Monday’, the program wants to help participants – many of whom spent decades working at Ford – explore potential business ideas and share knowledge around starting a business.

Pollenizer chief Phil Morle has said the program is about bringing Australian startup veterans together to tackle what will be “an ongoing issue as Australia’s economy transitions and more jobs are displaced”.

“The Australian economy is going through unprecedented change. Legacy industries are shifting and new ones are being created. In our work, we have learned that as fast as old businesses end, new ones emerge and that anybody can start them.”

Image: Deakin University. Source: Six Degrees.

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