Big business, small town
This was an RMIT colour story assignment completed in my first-year studying a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism),
AME Systems is battling a difficult decision: to maintain operations in Ararat and stunt its growth or move departments elsewhere and increase its size.
The multimillion-dollar business has been doing everything it can to retain manufacturing in the town it has known since conception, but managing director Nick Carthew is questioning how long it can last.
The current housing and skilled worker shortages are preventing one of Ararat’s largest employers from having the workforce it requires.
From buying and renovating a $400,000 hotel, to flying in pacific islanders from Samoa and Fiji – AME Systems is spending eyewatering figures to ensure it has the workforce it needs to grow.
Mr Carthew said his executive team is now weighing up the sustainability of remaining in town.
“Not to scare monger, but we are thinking perhaps we need to segregate some of the business off into other areas to be able to sustain the growth,” he said.
“We're actually talking about that right now.”
The business employs more than 250 people and requires the expertise of engineers in the defence and aerospace markets.
Ararat Rural City Council’s review of historic zoning issues has been welcomed, however, Mr Carthew said it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues that need addressing.
“I've got some fairly unpopular views on what needs to happen in Ararat to make it more attractive and more liveable,” he said.
“The easiest route for us is bringing people in from the Pacific Islands because they're not necessarily coming here for lifestyle, they're coming here for an opportunity.”
Mr Carthew said beyond housing, education standards are deterring executives and middle management.
“You need a draw card and that draw card for us is to have a school that is excelling and delivering standards for our children that are greater than what we're saying here,” he said.
AME Systems has no plans to exit Ararat and wants to ensure the legacy of the organisation continues.
But to sustain growth, changes will need to be made.
Mr Carthew said the business is looking to potentially establish itself in Queensland and doing “other things” internationally, if it cannot reach its goals in western Victoria.
“Our forecasts over the next five years are more than doubled our current size. There's a lot of work to be done in Ararat for that to happen here,” he said.