Mikaela Aitken
Writer, Editor & Strategist

Business cities

Writer: Mikaela Aitken
Photography: Peter Tarasiuk

As a young architecture graduate, it didn't take much to convince Ryan Genesin to leave his home city of Adelaide and head to Melbourne for a job. It was only after he decided to found his own interior-design studio — behind projects such as Korean restaurant Ban Ban, womenswear retailer Denim Iniquity and Sydney coffee shop Story — that he made the choice to go home. "There's so much going on in Adelaide," says Genesin, who was also contemplating starting a family when he returned to the city. "The stigma of being a small town is quickly shaken off when you head out to some of our amazing nightspots."

For years the South Australian capital had been almost forgotten by the rest of the country. In the meantime, this hardworking city was quietly building its own for-tune. "We do more with less in Adelaide, says Genesin. "There are some really great firms that are small yet are winning the big national gongs for design."

This coastal city is booming thanks to local companies that pick up defence contracts, the relocation of the nation's space agency from Canberra, the country's most prolific cluster of wine regions and a packed cultural calendar. Between 2016 and 2019, the city's gross regional product increased by 5.9 per cent; it currently sits at €12bn.

Adelaide initially grew out of British wealth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then saw major investment again during the 1970s thanks to the car-manufacturing industry. This series of economic highs can be seen in the skyline of stately colonial-era builds and looming brutalist blocks. And the current boom is marked by cranes on[the horizon, which are building €2.abn worth of city infrastructure and commercial developments.

"It's the most exciting time the city has seen in decades," says Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor. "Liveability is incredibly high and, paired with the current dynamic city culture, it's fueling residential growth, which then triggers business growth. It's a virtuous cycle."

Part of this is down to the 2013 introduction of an affordable small-bar licence. It has allowed more than 100 small bars, cafes, restaurants and galleries to open within the city centre. It's a far cry from the draconian laws that stifled night-time economies in Sydney and Brisbane.

"I didn't think I'd be able to stay and do something I really loved in Adelaide," says Oliver Brown, director of hospitality group The Big Easy, which is responsible for some of the hottest tables in town including pizza bar Anchovy Bandit and Greek taverna Yiasou George. "Adelaide his grown up quite a lot in the past five years and the small-venue licence was a big catalyst for this change." Brown studied wine-making at university before setting up pop-up bar Red Trousers during the annual Adelaide Fringe arts festival.

"Then a landlord who was also the chair of the board of Renew Adelaide allowed us to open our first outpost, Nola, back in 2015 in a really great space," he says. "Far more experienced operators were tendering for the space but the landlord saw an opportunity in change.”

The Big Easy’s sharply designed and bustling three-restaurant stronghold in the city’s East End owes its success in part to industry-led nonprofit initiatives such as Renew Adelaide. A network of property owners provides subsidies in order to fill empty city lots with young entrepreneurs who want to test their food or retail concepts. It’s a smart move for a state that has traditionally haemorrhaged young talent.

On the southern border of the central business district is concept store Ensemble. Co-owners Bing Rowland, Beccy Bromilow and Emma Thomson impressed their landlord with grand self- funded renovation plans to win the con- tract for the nearly 200 sq m shop in the once sleepy inner neighbourhood. “There were tumbleweeds rolling down the street a few years ago, so we were nervous about opening in this spot,” says Rowland. But, at €1,650 per month, the place was a steal.

The shop selling leather shoes, womenswear and plants occupies the front of the site, with an exhibition space and artist in residence at the back, and Bromilow’s shoe workshop sandwiched between. “We receive a lot of support from our neigh- bours and our customers are very loyal and make the effort to support our grow- ing business,” says Bromilow.

The cheaper rents and greater avail- ability of central property compared to other cities mean that people can take risks they might not be able to elsewhere. For example, Rowland’s sister Caitlin and her husband left the Melbourne hospitality scene to open Sibling, a café, next door, all while she was pregnant. “The climate is changing and people are going out and trying things,” says Rowland. “There’s no harm in trying and there seems to be a consensus in Adelaide that we don’t get caught up in our failures. We would much rather celebrate our successes.”

French immersion
A whopping €49bn worth of defence projects is predicted to be manufactured in Adelaide in the next 20 years.That’s the lion’s share of Australia’s total materiel spend. A large portion of this – more than €44bn – was set to go towards building 12 new “attack class” submarines.

Back in April 2016, the Australian government announced that French state- owned firm Naval Group had won a bid to lead the design but that the work would be done on home soil. With

the project now underway, a wave of French engineers, technicians and their families have made the move Down Under. Some primary schools are embracing the change by teaching French in their classrooms and there’s been a parallel transfer of skilled migrants into the region’s wine industry.The quality of croissants and baguettes is also said to be on the rise but commendable pastry aside, assimilation hasn’t been entirely smooth.

Tensions bubbled to the surface in 2019 when French Naval Group workers expressed frustration with short (or no) lunch breaks and the insistence on to- the-minute punctuality. Australians were reportedly shocked upon learning about les grandes vacances: the French tradition of businesses closing for chunks of July and August. But even with workshops put in place to ease cultural clashes, the project continues to falter. Delays were announced by the French company earlier this year, pushing its design delivery from July 2022 to September 2023. Long lunch breaks included, the first subs are due to enter the water by the mid-2030s but the entire fleet isn’t expected to be completed until 2053.

On the up Down Under
Setting up:
Obtaining a working visa for Australia remains difficult. But there are options; a nomination by a government organisation or an investment close to €1m certainly helps.

Growth sectors:
The South Australian government is heavily investing in the space- innovation, defence and film-making sectors. An old city hospital and a former Mitsubishi manufacturing site are currently being transformed into education and innovation precincts.

High-speed connections:
City hall’s 10 gigabit Adelaide network will bring lightning- fast internet to the central business district and North Adelaide.

Air travel:
Adelaide Airport offers direct international flights to nine destinations including Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Auckland. It’s also serviced by all major domestic airlines and offers a wide range of regional and charter options.

Quality of life:
They call Adelaide the “20-minute city” for a reason: it’s just a short drive to the beach and wine regions, commutes are quick and you’re never far from a park.