There is hope in Bay of Opportunity

Business In Action

We live in the Bay of Opportunity.

This statement may sound like misguided optimism, especially considering the multiple crises, uncertainty and instability — both local and global — of the current environment.

However, if we focus only on the negatives in our present situation, we risk losing sight of the positive attributes we already have, and the opportunities that exist to build a better future in this place we call home.

We are a city built on a strong manufacturing sector, which features automotive and its associate, downstream components manufacturing, as well as pharmaceuticals, beverages and other types of manufacturing.

Together, our local auto manufacturers account for 41% of SA’s automotive industry employment, 45% of local vehicle production, and more than half of the country’s vehicle exports, at over 100 000 vehicles annually.

The automotive industry in general has an estimated 21.5 multiplier effect on employment — thus supporting employment (and consumer spending power) across diverse suppliers, retail and the services sector.

We are home to almost half of SA’s component manufacturers, and the country’s largest auto manufacturer, Volkswagen Group Africa, accounting for 24% of local vehicle production.

These companies continue to make substantial investments in local production as seen by Ford SAs’ R600m investment in upgrading and expansion of its Struandale plant, and a R114m investment by component manufacturer Formex in manufacturing and technology expansion, are but two examples.

This all highlights the world-class manufacturing capabilities of local industry producing quality products for local and global markets; and the belief that these manufacturers, many of them global players, have in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Underscoring the status of the Bay’s automakers in the national and continental automotive manufacturing context is the fact that, for the first time, the presidents of both Naamsa, the Automotive Business Council (Isuzu’s Billy Tom) and the African Association of Automotive Manufacturers (Martina Biene of VW Africa), are leaders of companies based here.

Our strength in world-class manufacturing extends beyond automotive.

Take, for example, Aspen — Africa’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer with its flagship plant in the Bay. Their contract with Danish firm Novo Nordisk to produce 16 million vials of human insulin annually for distribution across Africa, has resulted in a R6bn investment in plant expansion and an employment boost.

A historic part of the Bay’s manufacturing fabric, SA Breweries has invested R500m in expanding capacity at its Ibhayi Brewery, adding 14 000 jobs to the national beer value chain.

The Bay continues to attract substantial investment.

Hive Hydrogen’s planned R105bn green ammonia production facility in the Coega SEZ, the biggest ever inward investment into SA, represents not only 20 000 direct jobs created, but a major catalyst for downstream economic opportunities and employment.

Global automaker Stellantis has selected Coega as the location for its R3bn manufacturing plant, set to break ground by mid-year and create 1 000 direct jobs as well as substantial downstream opportunities for component and other suppliers.

It is crucial that these new investments are supported and that we leverage our status as a manufacturing city to not only retain what we have but to harness new opportunities and grow employment in the future technology-powered and low-carbon economy that is already at our doorstep.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber has set up a Local Economy Reinvention Think Tank to gather futureorientated thinking on how to adapt the local economy and tap into new opportunities — the hydrogen/green ammonia downstream, electrolyser manufacturing, NEVs and reinvention of the automotive value chain, low carbon economy opportunities through the Bay’s pioneering climate resilience strategy development and green energy hub potential.

This work, both of the think-tank and the development of a climate-resilient green economy, is also important in diversifying the local economy away from our historic over-reliance on the automotive sector.

The Bay has substantial advantages to offer as an automotive and future-orientated manufacturing and green economy hub.

We have two ports — one of which is a deep water port, the Coega SEZ, ample potential for solar and wind power generation, highly-skilled people, high-level engineering and innovation capacity, an extensive services sector, all in a “15minute city” of manageable size.

Add to that the lifestyle advantages for investors and residents of abundant sunshine, beautiful Blue Flag beaches, the natural environment of our five-biome city, plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities and leisure, plus good schools and tertiary education.

Certainly, there is much that needs to be done to improve the enabling environment for business, the attractiveness to investors, and the living environment for residents.

We need basic services to improve and to address crumbling infrastructure and derelict buildings; safety and security must be improved; we need water security and reliable electricity; and the logistics network needs substantial strengthening by addressing port inefficiencies, developing the north-south rail corridor, and addressing the poor state of roads.

We are at a tipping point, where we need to collaborate and take action on the current problems, while also reimagining the future with hope and optimism.

A recent article in The Conversation by University of Pretoria psychology professor Tharina Guse, discussed how having hope is good for our wellbeing and helps us to persevere despite uncertainty and setbacks.

Having hope has a collective impact as well, motivating communities to be proactive and maintain momentum towards the future even amid crises and uncertainty.

A key to cultivating a hopeful mindset, she said, is if we can see obstacles as challenges which can be overcome through collaboration and applying our collective mindset, skills and resources; finding the good things around us and focusing on building the future rather than sinking into despair at the current crises.

Looking at our Bay of Opportunity, there IS hope — if we work together to rise to the challenges.