Unwrapping the Bay of Opportunity

June 6, 2024 - Presidents Debate at the Nelson Mandela Bay Chamber AGM (NMB as an automotive Industry hub in SA & Africa) Pictured here:Chamber CEO, Denise van Huysteen.
June 6, 2024 - Presidents Debate at the Nelson Mandela Bay Chamber AGM (NMB as an automotive Industry hub in SA & Africa) Pictured here:Chamber CEO, Denise van Huysteen.
Image: Werner Hills

Nelson Mandela Bay IS the Bay of Opportunity.

This is not just the view of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.

It was emphatically endorsed by new international investors in the Bay, leaders of major manufacturing organisations, members of local and national media, and local and provincial government representatives who participated in the chamber’s Nelson Mandela Bay Manufacturing Showcase last week.

We organised a series of events over two days to highlight the manufacturing capabilities in the Bay, the key advantages of locating investments here and this metro’s potential as an African hub of diverse manufacturing and exports.

The Bay has strengths in being one of very few two-port cities, a strategic geolocation for global shipping and intercontinental land trade, home to the Coega SEZ, ample natural resources including for solar and wind power, and highly skilled people with depth of skills, technology and innovation capacity.

The metro is the undisputed hub of the SA automotive manufacturing sector, with great potential to diversify this strength into new manufacturing sectors in the advancing cleaner, greener, tech-enabled economy.

Harnessing that potential is the key aim of the Local Economy Reinvention Think Tank launched during last week’s events.

The think tank brings together innovators and forward-thinkers from diverse sectors of business and industry to not only identify new opportunities to diversify local manufacturing but, most importantly, conduct feasibility studies and develop the plans to realise them — connecting innovative, blue-sky thinking with tangible action.

As think tank co-leader Quinton Uren put it: “This is exciting work. Most importantly, it is do-able.”

The energy, optimism and belief in the Bay of Opportunity was felt in every event over the two days — in the think tank launch; in the briefings by incoming investors Hive Hydrogen and Stellantis, and by Aspen Pharmacare on their plant expansions; in the president’s debate at our AGM, on the future of the Bay in automotive manufacturing for Africa; and in all the many informal engagements and networking which took place over this period.

The perspectives shared by investors and business leaders are a powerful testament to the advantages and potential of Nelson Mandela Bay, underscoring that our vision of the Bay of Opportunity is already starting to happen.

Colin Loubser, chief executive of Hive Energy Africa, representing the largest-ever inward investment into SA with its R105bn green ammonia plant at Coega, pointed out that multinational corporations can locate new facilities anywhere in the world.

However, he said: “The decision to come to Nelson Mandela Bay was easy”, highlighting the outstanding facilities and services of the Coega SEZ and the Coega Development Corporation (CDC), with a port that could have been purpose-built for Hive’s plans, “an incredibly dynamic set of people in this metro, who can deliver”, and all the necessary supporting business and engineering services readily available here.

The Hive Hydrogen investment represents a major opportunity for the Bay to attract new manufacturing businesses in that value chain — for example, electrolysers, solar and wind energy equipment, batteries, automotive alternatives — and the company has already embarked on discussions with several international manufacturers on locating plants around the Hive facility as anchor.

Stellantis SA chief executive Mike Whitfield was emphatic in his view that Nelson Mandela Bay “can lead the journey to double SA’s automotive production”, the key target of the automotive industry master plan for 2035.

The world’s third largest automotive manufacturer, Stellantis, anticipates starting construction of its R3bn plant in Coega later this year, creating 1,000 jobs when in full production in late 2025.

With the company aiming at 70% local content, Whitfield says there is “major opportunity for local manufacturers in the up- and downstream ecosystem”.

He emphasised that the new plant was not simply a new facility to build vehicles, but testament to the enabling environment provided by agencies like the department of trade, industry & competition, the CDC and the Industrial Development Corporation.

“Investment in the automotive industry is a long-term process and there can be no investment of any nature without a legislative environment that ensures the playing fields are levelled, the interests of investors are protected and a road map that guides all stakeholders,” he said.

Outlining why Aspen, Africa’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, continues to expand its flagship plant in the Bay, Aspen SA operations executive Christiaan Theron highlighted the city’s manageable size and cost-effectiveness, and the high levels of pharmaceutical and engineering skills produced here.

A key point, he said, was that the Bay offered an environment where collaboration was active, and “where we can influence the obtaining the services and skills that we need”, with initiatives such as the geographic business clusters operating under the chamber able to engage effectively with local government and solve problems far quicker than in larger metros.

As he points out: “The chamber makes a big difference by connecting otherwise unconnected businesses that share common goals, to work together to achieve them.”

Over and above availability of services and infrastructure, the Bay’s key advantage, a “golden thread” in the comments of investors and business leaders, is its people — hailed as resilient, resourceful, innovative, highly capable and, most importantly, willing to put competitive interests aside and collaborate in the interests of all the people of the metro.

The dynamic people of the Bay are the key strength powering all of our initiatives. They are the key to unlocking action that moves the Bay of Opportunity forward.

Denise van Huyssteen is chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.



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