New lion roars: why Pelligra Group is investing in SA

Immediate acceptance and flourishing activity at Lionsgate – the repurposed former Holden automotive factory at Elizabeth – signals an unexpected but welcome surge in business confidence for a region that is swiftly re-inventing itself and reviving its fortunes.

Designed to serve as a new industrial hub for Adelaide’s north, the 122ha Lionsgate site has been quickly populated with new businesses, proving itself to be an appropriate place for the timely expansion of existing companies and the foundation for new enterprises coming into South Australia.

Melbourne-based developer Pelligra Group bought the land from Holden during 2018, announcing that it would spend $250 million to redevelop and rename the site as Lionsgate Business Park. When the deal was settled in January, it signalled that SA carries significant potential for major investors from outside this state.

Ross Pelligra, chairman of Pelligra Group, says he was initially attracted by the size of the Lionsgate project – being one of the largest commercial land assets under one title in Australia.

A bird’s eye view of the former Holden site, now known as Lionsgate, at the end of 2017.

He is also thrilled that the site redevelopment is providing a springboard for new industrial opportunities to emerge in SA, at a critical time when industry is being revolutionised through rapid developments in technology and skills.

“Manufacturing is not like it was 20 years ago. The future is linked to the next level of urban renewal and advanced technologies,” says Ross.

“I believe that what is happening at Lionsgate represents the big way forward, providing a centre for up-skilled manufacturing and machinery – and the workforce in SA is ready for this leap forward.

“I truly believe that the leading edge SA business has is its people, and they are ready to embrace the next generation of manufacturing possibilities. The quick uptake of new manufacturing tenants at Lionsgate proves this.”

German battery giant sonnen and Business SA Exporter of the Year Levett Engineering are among the first wave of companies that have moved into the Lionsgate site, with the addition of more local and international manufacturing and technology tenants to be announced during March.

German battery giant sonnen’s Australian HQ is now based at Lionsgate, pictured is manufacturing manager Adam Williams. Photo by JKTP.

“Acceptance has been far beyond my expectation,” says David Reid, senior director with CBRE, the real estate agency responsible for signing up Lionsgate tenants.

“Industrial expansion on this scale represents a huge success for the local economy and the beginning of a new era for the northern suburbs. I think the new road network, with the completion of the Northern Connector, is showing that this location is very accessible, affordable and highly functional.”

Pelligra is a family company, headed by Ross and his brother Paul Pelligra (CEO), with more than six decades of experience in building and construction, and has made a solid commitment to support the rebuilding of manufacturing.

It’s a strong endorsement, as the world has seen many large industrial cities plunged into an economic tailspin after the closure of automotive manufacturing plants – Detroit in the US being the most shocking example. Ross views the departure of Holden from Elizabeth and the immediate opportunities presented by the Lionsgate site very differently.

“We came to Elizabeth with a positive attitude,” he says. “We didn’t want to just fill up this space with warehousing – we wanted to invest and be supportive of growth industries, and that is the emerging manufacturing industries that are embracing new technologies.”

The Elizabeth plant has transitioned from automotive manufacturing to an advanced manufacturing hub and business park.

Lionsgate will eventually combine a mixed-use retail precinct, café and museum, a central park named Lion Park, and a suite of precincts for engineering and construction, automotive companies, food, beverage and pharmaceuticals companies, and education, medical and recreational businesses.

“I don’t see us completing Lionsgate for at least another five to 10 years, because it will need to keep changing to meet 21st century manufacturing needs,” says Ross. “I can see that we will be pulling down some existing buildings to construct new buildings that incorporate innovative and intelligent elements in their design that best suit modern machinery and tenants.

“I talk about the future vision in this way because Pelligra will be here for the long haul. I believe the steps we have taken at Lionsgate will encourage other developers to look at opportunities in SA and adopt the same positive outlook.”

The Lionsgate development also signals the start of continuing investment in SA by the Pelligra Group, which is building a new complex to support Sanjeev Gupta’s Whyalla rejuvenation, including $45 million in a four-star ocean-view hotel.

Ross Pelligro says the company is only weeks away from finalising plans with council, then will start the selection process for architects and discussions with major hotel brands as operator tenants.

“I believe our willingness to invest will stimulate more investment to come into SA,” he adds.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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‘SA manufacturing is far from dead’: Levett Engineering

For a rather small, specialised company such as Levett Engineering to be awarded Exporter of the Year at the Business SA 2018 Export Awards speaks volumes about the quality of work this aircraft component manufacturer delivers.

However, founder and CEO Paul Levett believes it says more about the company’s organisation structure and workforce ability.

“Making the part is the easy bit for a manufacturer,” says Paul. “The quality and efficiency of your project management is the essential criteria that customers are examining, and your ability and capability to meet demand in good time is the key.”

From its base in Elizabeth South, Levett Engineering now derives 90% of its revenue from exports, with key customers including Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Gulfstream already having some contract orders in place until 2027.

Levett Engineering CNC machinist Hari Shunmugavel, left, and CEO Paul Levett.

“What we have done is a very big symbol of what’s possible on the world stage from being based in South Australia,” says Paul.

It has been a steady rise since the company began in 1989, when Paul, a fitter and turner who had worked in defence, started manufacturing customised components from his backyard garage.

After 18 months, he took on his first employee, and two years later the expanded operation relocated to an Elizabeth West shed, which they outgrew and moved to their current site on Philip Highway in 2004.

In those days, a dark cloud hung over the future of manufacturing in SA, with hard questions asked about whether locally made goods could be cost competitive in a global marketplace.

Levett Engineering was smart and nimble enough to specialise in specific components that required high expertise and precision, rather than generalise in manufacturing.

Paul took a different tack by searching out gaps in local supply chains that could lead to global opportunities.

“For our business to thrive we had to look far beyond what all the other small part manufacturers in Australia were already providing – far outside of the automotive industry, and outside of Australia. We had to look where no-one else was going, to cut our own path,” he says.

Paul flew to the US as part of a trade mission in 2003, in the wake of the Australian Government’s 2002 Free Trade Agreement with the US, and began pitching for work in the aeronautical and defence industries, although the process tested his patience and persistence.

“It took five years of courting to keep showing what we are capable of. We had to prove ourselves, especially about how well we were managed, to build trust for us to obtain those crucial orders.”

Levett Engineering’s Claire Guichard.

By 2007, they had been awarded their first small contract, and soon won favour for their reliability. Levett remains the only Australian business producing machine components for the F135 Jet Engine, developed by US aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, and used in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II.

“We make components from an aircraft’s nose to its tail, including airframe and jet engine components, electronic enclosures, and vacuum brazed assemblies,” Paul explains.

The credibility attached to such a prestigious contract has enabled the company’s output to expand, covering many international defence, aerospace, medical, electronics and commercial engineering sectors.

Such progress has occurred through the company proving the efficiency of its component delivery. For one particular aeroplane part, Levett Engineering was initially contracted to provide only 30% of the order, while the remainder was locked up by a long-time US firm.

That has now reversed, with Levett being the majority provider due to its ability to meet order deadlines with maximum efficiency, and prove it has the facility to provide even more.

In December 2018, the company purchased new Japanese equipment at a cost of $2 million that will increase production, enabling a 40% reduction in product delivery times to its suppliers this year.

Levett Engineering inspector Jared Pound.

Growth continues, with the workforce recently doubling in size to 60 people, working through three shifts across six days a week, on the back of 40% revenue growth for the past two years.

Manufacturing is now spread across two sites – at its original Philip Highway shed, and adding a new location 18 months ago, across the road at Lionsgate, the former Holden automotive factory in Elizabeth.

Paul can envisage moving all operations into a larger space within the Lionsgate complex, as Levett Engineering’s status as a Tier 1 Supplier to the world’s largest defence company is generating even more contract discussions with leading aeroplane companies.

“The extent of global supply chain needed to keep feeding the demand for elite plane building is staggering – and we are now positioned right at the very heart of that business,” says Paul.

“It has been a lot of hard work to reach this point, but our success on the international stage proves that manufacturing is far from dead in SA.”

Top image features Heather and Paul Levett at the Lockhead Martin Australian F35 rollout ceremony.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Adelaide-built Brabham BT62 to hit the streets for Superloop 500

The Adelaide designed and manufactured supercar Brabham BT62 will be steered through city streets when it features at the Superloop Adelaide 500 next month.

Driven by former Formula 1 driver and multiple Le Mans winner David Brabham, the $1.8 million speed machine will make on-track demonstrations and will also feature in public displays throughout the four-day event.

The Superloop Adelaide 500, from February 28 to March 3, is the largest ticketed domestic motorsport event in Australia and is the first event for the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.

The Brabham BT62, built to deliver “blistering lap times”, is powered by a Brabham 5.4 litre V8 engine producing 522kW. It also features an aerodynamic package that delivers more than 1200kg of downforce.

Car manufacturing in South Australia was reborn in 2018 with the announcement that legendary automaker Brabham Automotive would build the BT62 in northern Adelaide.

The racetrack-only cars are manufactured in Brabham Automotive’s global headquarters at Edinburgh Parks, 1km from the former Holden plant. The BT62 is limited to only 70 cars in a nod to Brabham Automotive’s 70-year racing heritage.

The $1.8 million Brabham BT62. Photo: Brabham Automotive.

UK-based David Brabham, son of three-time Formula 1 World Champion Sir Jack Brabham, will bring the BT62 to the annual motor racing event in Adelaide, a city once home of the Australian Grand Prix between 1885 and 1995. David competed in the then SA-based Grand Prix in 1990 and 1994.

His father, Sir Jack Brabham died in 2014 and is considered one of Australia’s greatest motor racing legends.

“To drive the BT62 around the Superloop Adelaide 500 street circuit will be a fitting tribute to my father as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of his first Formula 1 World Championship in 1959, and what Brabham Automotive stands for,” David says.

“Alongside our family ties to Australia, the region of SA holds a rich automotive heritage as well as hosting one of the most popular motorsport events in Australia.”

Superloop Adelaide 500 general manager Alistair MacDonald hopes the on-track demonstration will bring a touch of history and the thrill of adrenalin to attendees.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for motorsport fans and those alike to appreciate the power of these race cars as they take to the Superloop Adelaide 500 street circuit,” he says.

“We want to recognise the legacy of the Brabham family and there is nothing more fitting than to host the BT62, a great SA manufacturing story, at the premier motorsport event in its home town.”

The Superloop Adelaide 500 won’t be the first time the BT62 has hit the track in SA. It was tested at Tailem Bend’s The Bend Motorsport Park, a 7.7km track, the world’s second-longest permanent circuit.

The BT62 was also run at the Adelaide Motorsport Festival in December.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Streaky Bay’s Courela Clothing keeping shearers happy for 30 years

Enter a shearing shed anywhere on the Eyre Peninsula and it’s likely you’ll spot the Courela Clothing logo slapped on a shearer’s trousers.

The Streaky Bay business has been a shearer’s brand of choice for 30 years, with customers in the US, UK, Europe, New Zealand and Israel donning the South Australian-made gear.

Courela Clothing has come a long way from its beginnings in the 1980s in Kerry and Noel Johnson’s lounge room.

Kerry began making shearing clothes from home for her husband Noel – a former shearer also known as ‘Grub’ – while their young children were at school.

Word soon spread throughout shearing sheds about the comfortable and hard-wearing pants, made from breathable, stretchier ‘shearer’s denim’.

Kerry Johnson of Courela Clothing. Photo courtesy of the West Coast Sentinel.

“We would drive miles and miles to sell gear at regional shops and rural areas,” Kerry says.

“There wasn’t a lot around because there was no internet then. Thirty years ago you couldn’t just Google things, you had to use the Yellow Pages.”

The Courela Clothing line consists of three key pieces – shearing trousers, singlets and jumpers.

Made from a stretch denim cloth, the trousers are high-waisted and can withstand greater wear and tear compared to typical denim jeans.

“They are long-lasting and the fabric doesn’t catch prickles which can be in the sheep’s wool and perforate through normal fabric,” Kerry says.

“Shearers often pick up a sheep with their hands and the sheep rests on their legs as it is shorn, so there is abrasion on the inner legs all day.”

Kerry says the designs have evolved over the years, with Noel and her son often giving feedback on the clothing after being out on the job.

“They’d come back and say the fabric wears out here, and this needs to be fixed,” she says.

With the word about Courela – which is also the name of their family farm – having spread throughout the Eyre Peninsula, it soon became a well-known shearing clothing brand across Australia and overseas.

“Shearers travel overseas a lot, and that’s how the word spreads,” Kerry says.

“We have a local man here who has travelled every year to Italy for the last 25 years to shear.”

Kerry estimates that Courela Clothing has sold “thousands” of items over the past three decades.

A team of five staff work from the Courela workshop at the Johnson’s Streaky Bay property.

Noel also sells and repairs shearing tools and equipment.

While the rural town isn’t as renowned for shearing as SA’s Limestone Coast, Kerry says it’s still home to many mixed farms.

She is one of four daughters who all were taught how to sew by their mother from a young age.

Aside from handling a sewing machine, they also know how to work the shears.

“I wasn’t a prissy little girl, my dad taught me how to shear when I was about 12,” Kerry says.

“Shearers are a very diverse bunch, but they’re generous and really down-to-earth, hard-working blokes.

“It’s predominantly a man’s world, although not as much these days as there are many women shearers.”

The improving gender balance in the shearing industry was made evident this week when TAFE SA announced that a 25-year-old woman had become the state’s first female to complete a Certificate III in Shearing.

Kerry says one of Courela Clothing’s biggest achievements was its ability to survive in the manufacturing world.

“Our biggest achievement has simply been surviving as a small business, that to me has been the biggest challenge,” she says.

“It’s hard work, and we strive to keep our quality.

“Supporting small local businesses is so important because it means jobs for our towns.

“Plus, people know they’re getting something that is Australian-made.”

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