Carli Homann, CEO at Gladstone Engineering Alliance speaks openly with The Observer editor, Christine McKee
Carli Homann, CEO at Gladstone Engineering Alliance speaks openly with The Observer editor, Christine McKee Mike Richards GLA060417GEAX

One of Gladstone's most influential women speaks her mind

CARLI Homann, in many ways, is an unlikely chief at Gladstone Engineering Alliance.

She grew up in Gladstone, the daughter of a civil engineer and her mum is a former commodore at Gladstone Yacht Club.

Carli is still an avid sailor and loves fishing and anything on the water.

She was once industry reporter at The Observer and says she is comfortable having a conversation with anyone from the Prime Minister to the person next to her in a line.

This week, editor Christine McKee sat down with one of Gladstone's most influential women to take a look at Gladstone through her eyes.

CM: What is the benefit to being part of an alliance?

CH: GEA is an alliance of businesses. Our primary focus is on building capability and capacity within the supply chain that maintains, fixes and operates major plants in Gladstone and across Queensland.

We do have a lot of engineers as part of the organisation but we cater for all five levels of the supply chain, from project managers and trades right down to the landscapers, the cleaners.

The tier level is around how they take they risk and where that work fits into the scale of the project.

CM: You say you're seeing green shoots in the Gladstone economy, can you explain what you're seeing?

CH: Obviously Gladstone has experienced a lot of construction projects, about $70 billion worth. When construction finishes these plants need to be maintained and what we're seeing is a significant move to the maintenance side of things.

Gladstone Industry Leadership Group (GILG) have put their shutdown calendar out and that's really helped small to medium businesses plan for their year and identify where work opportunity is.

We've also got a few small projects. Rio Tinto are building a new dam so we've got those small bits and pieces. I would say strategic decisions were made and they were put on hold while $70 billion was happening and so what we're starting to see is those projects feed through.

We're definitely seeing green shoots and we're getting that feedback from our members. 2017 was a tough year for a lot of people but at the end of last year there was a lot of tendering, a lot of contracts being written and now they're coming to fruition.

CM: What's needed to water those shoots?

CH: Obviously investment. We need to look at private and public sector and outside of our region as well.

One of the things about Gladstone is we are one of the most highly skilled supply chains but we're also strategically positioned on the Queensland coast with a gold mine that is our harbour on the doorstep.

It's really about making sure that businesses are continually looking not just in Gladstone but where and how they can logistically operate. Gladstone businesses have always been very savvy about that.

The peak industry bodies and tourism bodies need to keep working together and collaborate to drive Gladstone forward and lobby together for investment and attraction for the region.

CM: Some people have said that Gladstone has an over-abundance of organisations and industry groups and there's a lot of duplication happening. Do you agree?

CH: There's four key organisations in this region - Gladstone Engineering Alliance (GEA), Gladstone Industry Leadership Group (GILG), Gladstone Area Promotion and Development Ltd (GAPDL) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). Each of those organisations, if you look at them, serves a different section of the business environment. It's about identifying where you sit and who can give you the most benefit.

If you're just starting up, the industry groups will help and point you in the right direction but you need to be prepared. You need a business plan. We'll help a start up by all means but you need an understanding of the direction of where you're going and the financial backing.

CM: If you had a wish list for state and federal governments, what would be on it?

CH: For me it's investment projects and infrastructure. If we keep building the infrastructure, then we can keep growing the region.

We have so many industries in Gladstone but how many of them are working together? They are in certain areas but could they be leveraging off each other if we had this golden switch that, for example, allowed the gas from the island to service the industry here.

I would like to see an holistic approach. If we're going to invest, what is it this region could use that not only helps service the existing industry but opens the doors to new industry or opportunity.

That's not just federal and state government, that's local council as well. There's a lot of money that goes out in dribs and drabs but what could that pool of money achieve in a bigger sense to open up more opportunity?

To move forward, we all need to come together a bit more and work out what it is we need. All the voices that play in that economic development field can drive this region forward.

CM: Do the four peak organisations meet regularly?

CH: No. The organisations do work together, but do I believe it could work better? Yes.

CM: How important do you think the renewable energy industry is to Gladstone's economy moving forward?

CH: I have mixed feelings about that. Obviously, I'm very supportive of it...by all means bring it on we need those projects.

But it's about finding the balancing act. We still need the existing industry and the resource sector, we still need the coal industry to generate the power to make everything we need.

But I definitely see an opportunity for the renewable industry. Seeing the hydroelectric plants in Italy was just fascinating and I'm looking at this harbour we have...

CM: Do you see the potential for a research and development industry here?

CH: There is a lot of R&D work going on here but it's probably not promoted as much. GEA has pushed for a document that outlines what we currently have and again, put infrastructure in place that would open the doors to new industry.

Toowoomba region had this document and what came out of that was farmers getting access to water from yhe gas industry and the new airport was being built with flights to Melbourne, Sydney and overseas.

So what happened is a completely new industry of an international flower market has been developed from just outlining and looking at what does the region currently have and what infrastructure is coming online that could open the door to new things.

I think that's a gap that missing here and if we had a document like that it could help to guide us in what we need next...it's about connecting all those dots into one.