The Queensland Government has been handing out annual awards to the state’s exporters for more than 30 years.
The accumulating lists of finalists and winners provide a handy core sample of Queensland’s economic development over recent decades.
They remind us of when times used to be simpler.
Award categories were straightforward in the early days: “minerals”, “value-adding”, “agribusiness”, “small-to-medium manufacturing” and the like.
Today it’s much more sophisticated. The 2021 Premier of Queensland’s Awards, being held at Brisbane City Hall on Wednesday, 6 October, will recognise success in categories such as “E-commerce”, “creative industries” and “sustainability”.
“Agribusiness” is now “agribusiness, food and beverage”, while the “minerals” category has expanded to “minerals, energy and related services”.
There’s also a “professional services award”, all these changes a recognition of Queensland’s steady economic development from its reliance on primary industry production to increasingly sophisticated value-adding.
A quick scan of the award winners over the years also highlights this shift. Queensland coal companies won awards eight times in the first 20 years of the awards, but have had no success at all since 2009.
The lists also reminds us there are some constant threads running through the Queensland economy.
There are the high fliers who have faded away. Queensland Nickel, back in the days when Alan Bond owned it and before it was bought by Clive Palmer and eventually shut down in 2016, was one of the stars of the inaugural awards in 1989.
There are the emerging companies that just keep growing, such as Wagners Quarry Products of Toowoomba, which won recognition in the 1991 awards.
That’s the same Wagner family who have since built an international airport at Wellcamp and are now working on a quarantine camp.
Who would have spotted that business opportunity 30 years ago?
There are the home-grown success stories that do so well that foreigners buy them, such as Queensland’s biggest dairy producer, QUF Industries, an early award winner, which was taken over by Italy’s Parmalat in 1998 and is now controlled by French dairy group Lactalis.
There are the family-owned companies, which stick to what they know best while also adapting to changing markets, such as Narangba-based Packer Leather.
The company is almost a hundred years old and into its fifth generation of family ownership but remains on the cutting edge of its industry, so much so it won the Premier of Queensland’s Exporter of the Year Award in 2015.
And, of course, there are the visionary entrepreneurs who succeed with an idea only they could see, such as Alfio Bucceri, who invented the artificial snow technology behind Permasnow, another winner at the inaugural 1989 event.
His big breakthrough had been creating a snow slope for the Swiss Pavillion at the 1988 World Expo in Brisbane, which attracted global attention.
Bucceri later sold out of his company, which moved onto other things, to pursue his snow-making dreams elsewhere.
But still, the fact that someone in sub-tropical Brisbane could sell snow to the Swiss is evidence that anything possible if you put your mind to it.
Which, more or less, gets to the point of these awards, as I see it.
The fact is exporting is really hard work. You need to have great belief in yourself and a great business plan, or perhaps just rocks in your head, if you decide you can make more money selling your goods or services to the world rather than sticking to your home market.
Everything is different, and often harder overseas. Not only does every country have its own red tape and bureaucratic processes and cultural practices but also it’s more often than not in another language.
But we need exporters now more than ever. The longer we have locked-down borders, which are keeping out the tourists and the students, the more we need to encourage local businesses to take on the world.
And what better way to encourage companies than to recognise their success?
I’ve lost count of the number of Queensland export awards I’ve been to over the years – as a political minder, as a business journalist, as an Austrade Trade Commissioner and later while working with Trade and Investment Queensland.
I was once even an award winner, when the little paper I was editing in the mid-1990s, Business Queensland, won a media award for its support of exporters.
All I can say is that if you’re there on the night and you see the excitement of the winners when they get called to the stage, the point of these awards becomes perfectly clear.
Here’s the full list of categories and nominees for this year’s awards.
InQueensland is a media partner of the Premier of Queensland’s Export Awards.
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