Time for action

For nearly 20 years the Clipsal powerpoint and light switch factory in Strathalbyn has provided regular, well paying employment for between 100 and 175 people.
Now it is closing, a victim of wider, global financial pressures that make it hard for Australia to compete in manufacturing compared with cheap labor costs overseas.
SA can take comfort from the fact that Clipsal’s owner, French company Schneider Electric, is not moving offshore (yet) preferring to consolidate its operations at Gepps Cross.
And Strathalbyn’s permanent workers have been offered the option of taking up positions at the Port Wakefield Road factory at Gepps Cross.
But the word around the district is that many won’t because the plant is just too far for employees travelling from all around the Fleurieu Peninsula, Murraylands and Hills.
Strathalbyn businesses have lost the certainty of 100 permanent employment incomes and more than 30 casual employment incomes circulating in their community, filling up petrol tanks, dropping in for some groceries on the way home from work or picking up takeaway meals.
A town cannot lose its biggest employer and not expect some financial pain.
Unlike the closure of the Clipsal plant at Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley in 2009 during a time of relative economic prosperity, this time a factory is shutting during an extremely tough financial period.
People will be looking for new employment in a tighter job market and perhaps they will be wondering how to sell their houses and move closer to job opportunities when the housing market in the region is barely moving.
What is needed now is some strategic thinking at a regional level.
The Alexandrina Council must partner with the State Government to consider how they can bring another major industry into the area or create a favorable environment where many different industry sectors seek to set up shop.
Back in the early 1990s when the Onkaparinga Woollen Mill closed down in Lobethal, the local council worked with the Government to create a business incubator that today employs more people than the textile manufacturer did when it shut.
Strathalbyn doesn’t have the same circumstances as Lobethal – the factory site itself is still owned by SA company Gerard Corporation – but it does have an opportunity to plot its economic future.
Forward thinking and community involvement could well build a new financial base for this beautiful regional centre that is less reliant on the decision of a single overseas company.

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