The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to better understand and address our supply chain issues and opportunities. The Australian Made Campaign Ltd (AMCL) is calling on all Australians to ‘Buy Australian Now and Support Aussie Jobs’ and the Morrison Government has announced the launch of a new era of Australian manufacturing in an effort to rebuild the economy, create jobs and recover from the COVID-19 recession.

“A thriving manufacturing sector is critical to Australia’s economic future and prosperity. By buying Australian right now, not only are you getting products grown in our clean, green environment and made to the highest of manufacturing standards, you are also pumping money back into the economy, creating jobs, strengthening local industries and supporting local communities,” says Australian Made Chief Executive, Ben Lazzaro.”

It is timely therefore to review just how Australian manufacturing is doing, and to recognise those in our industry that continue to invest and do it well.

New analysis shared by The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work reveals Australia does not fare well against its OECD counterparts. “Most other industrial countries have manufacturing sectors that are successful and large enough to, in aggregate, meet their own domestic needs for manufactured products,” reports director of the centre, Dr Jim Stanford.

“Australia has one of the most underdeveloped manufacturing sectors of any industrial country in the world,” said Dr Stanford. “I think there is a mistaken assumption that if you’re a rich, high-wage, industrial country you just can’t do manufacturing. We found that traditional assumption is absolutely false.”

In the late 1980s manufacturing was the biggest employer in Australia, with 16.5 per cent of the workforce. Now less than 1 million people work in the sector, accounting for 6.4 per cent of jobs.

One company bucking this trend however is Armstrong Flooring who continue to make high quality commercial flooring products at their Victorian Braeside plant for well over 50 years. Commercial vinyl flooring manufactured at this facility is not only found on most of Australia’s toughest commercial floors but is also exported to many destinations around the world.

“We are very proud of the fact that when everyone is lamenting the demise of Australian manufacturing, Armstrong Flooring is not only making product here, but is also exporting. About 20% of our production goes to customers in 21 different countries on five continents. We even export to China,” says Rob Mclorinan, General Manager of Armstrong Flooring.

Like many Australian manufacturers, Armstrong Flooring are not only highly skilled at producing their core ranges but are also flexible enough to develop and deliver short run bespoke flooring, while adapting to changing trends and environments. They have continued to manufacture while safely navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver products to essential projects like hospital, school and aged care developments.

Australian attitudes towards local manufacturing has shifted significantly with strong support for buying local. Roy Morgan research conducted in July 2020 shows that 9 in 10 Australians believe Australia should produce more products locally. When asked why, reasons given by Australians included; the pandemic has highlighted Australia’s reliance on other countries and to create new employment opportunities and keep jobs in Australia we need to support Australian businesses and industry.  Also noted is that the pandemic has highlighted vulnerable international supply chains and manufacturing locally is essential to strengthen Australia’s economy and survive the recession.

Armstrong Flooring’s General Manager, Rob Mclorinan attributes the company’s strength to its 106 employees, many of whom have been with the company for over 25 years. There is a triple bottom line for a manufacturer like Armstrong. Not only do they keep jobs in Australia, but the business benefits from better customer service built on long term relationships, greater responsiveness based on shorter lead times and higher trust in the brand, product quality and environmental impact. Ultimately, supporting Australian manufacturing is about jobs and the knock-on effect to other businesses around it. Mclorinan talks about the value-add effect and the benefit to the local economy as many other businesses are also suppliers into the local facility. Where possible, as much as possible is sourced locally.

This is particularly important out in the field, where customers can deal with someone they have known and trusted for a long period. Armstrong prides itself on manufacturing and delivering product that will exceed customer expectations.

“In the major project space, it’s not unusual for product from our current range to be replacing product we manufactured decades earlier. The old flooring is still performing as well as it did the day it was installed. Putting the customer first is hardly a new and dynamic concept, but it reflects Armstrong’s culture. Many customers in the flooring market have been with us for decades.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced around $1.5 billion in new funding over 4 years in the Modern Manufacturing Strategy to make Australian manufacturers more competitive, resilient and able to scale-up to take on the world.

“We make things in Australia. We do it well. We need to keep making things in Australia. And with this strategy, we will,” Prime Minister Morrison said.

“Manufacturing is critical to Australia’s economic future, to the prosperity of our regions and to the capabilities that underpin the success of so many other industries.”

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said, “This strategy reflects the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as extensive work with industry before that.

“Our manufacturers have risen to the challenge to deliver during COVID-19 and now, we’re unlocking their potential to deliver for our future,” Minister Andrews said.

“We keep pace with the latest technology and have a research division, which ensures we are manufacturing vinyl flooring that is highly competitive and entirely appropriate for the market. Behind the product we have knowledgeable sales and service personnel who support our customers from order placement through to installation and maintenance.” Says Mclorinan from Armstrong Flooring.

Minister Andrews explains, “By playing to our strengths, strategically investing and boosting the role of science and technology in industry, we can open up new markets and take more of our quality products to the world.”

“Every day we manufacture products at our Braeside Victoria factory for installation in some of the most demanding spaces, it is commonplace for our products to be installed in hospitals, schools, prisons and even airports. As such our products not only have to meet our customers demand to provide on trend colours, but to also provide extremely durable, hygienic, easy to maintain floors which assist in minimising costs for maintenance, as well as reducing resource wastage throughout the life of the floor,”  reports Michael Keam, Business Development and Product Manager at Armstrong Flooring.

The company has a strong emphasis on product sustainability and its Green credentials. Armstrong Flooring’s Australian made vinyl floor and wall products, achieve third party certification by NCS International to the Green Building Council of Australia’s PVC Best Practice Guidelines and by Ecospecifier to GreenTag Greenrate Level A which permits use of Armstrong Flooring’s best practice PVC products in GBCA Green Star projects. This is becoming more important in building construction across all our commercial markets.