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December 27, 2017

Tonsley reaches critical mass

While the state laments Holden’s recent closure, Adelaide should be paying closer attention to the example of Tonsley Innovation District – where more business and more employees thrive now than at the time Mitsubishi closed a decade ago.

  • Pictured above: A bird's-eye view of the Main Assembly Building (MAB) at Tonsely

The tale of Tonsley bears all the hallmarks of the global post-industrial nightmare – local car making stalls and shutters leaving behind hundreds of unemployed people.

And indeed 930 people lost their jobs after Mitsubishi declared it would no longer be rolling cars off the line at Tonsley. But when Mitsubishi packed up shop, Tonsley wasn’t left to ruin. Instead, the Government purchased the land and plans were set in motion to update the 61-hectare site for manufacturing in the 21st Century.

The project is run by Renewal SA as part of its remit to unlock the potential of existing urban areas, enhance industry capacity, and demonstrate excellence in planning and development through the creation of mixed use precincts.

“Tonsley truly is a 61 hectare living lab.” — Philipp Dautel

Today, the Main Assembly Building (MAB) remains from the Mitsubishi days but currently connects Flinders University’s school of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics (with 1600 staff and students) with TAFE SA’s Tonsley campus.

Under the same roof where – toward the end – 930-odd workers assembled cars for an international company, more than 100 separate businesses now employ approximately 1,200 people. Rather than just one business booming, it’s businesses,  plural, that are really starting to put the pedal to the metal here.

“We have to be quite targeted about the businesses that come here,” says Renewal SA’s Tonsley Precinct Director, Philipp Dautel.

“The greatest opportunity for innovation is between businesses where there is enough common ground to start a relationship, but enough differentiation for each party to bring something new into a collaboration. We work hard to get that mix right and consult with our existing organisations on site to identify and target complementary organisations.” 

“Companies like Siemens are here. And South Australian solar electricity and energy storage company, Zen Energy Systems also work from Tonsley.

Zen Energy technician on-site

“Investment attraction and business development are key drivers for Tonsley… We’re chasing strong local and global brands.”

And the strategy seems to be working, with top-tier advanced manufacturers now relocating to Tonsley.

“ZEISS has a long history of innovation, being at the forefront of optical technologies,” says Pamela Andrews of ZEISS – a multinational group of companies currently relocating its South Australian operations from Lonsdale to Tonsley.

Collaboration is a natural outcome of cohabitating in the Tonsley precinct

“The move to Tonsley allows us to co-locate all of our SA footprint into a single location among a community of innovative, forward-looking like-minded organisations where we have the opportunity to support each other and work together on new opportunities that might arise through our greater engagement.

“Couple this with the fabulous infrastructure, services and the social environment and it becomes a natural choice.”

ZEISS has labs in three states in Australia but South Australia is its largest and most advanced. A recent investment in equipment made by the growing company means the SA operation can process more than 50 per cent of the company’s eyewear orders nationally.

For Philipp, the ZEISS move is just part of the cutting edge model of urban redevelopment being delivered at Tonsley.

“Tonsley truly is a 61-hectare living lab,” he says.


 For more information and to connect with Tonsley visit: 

“By the end of this year, we will have autonomous pods driving around Tonsley. We will have an Ageing Well Living Lab established in the MAB and will soon start an associated residential project to provide 30 innovative apartments for tenants who will assist with ongoing research activities.”

Tonsley has changed a lot since, well, probably last week. But right now, while Elizabeth goes through the pain of laying a giant to rest, this innovation district to the south is abuzz with a thousand workers building technology and building the knowledge that will bolster Adelaide’s resilience well into the future.

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