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Caravan maker first to snare Ford exit funding

On the move: New Age produces off-road caravans in the Melbourne suburb of Epping.

Melbourne workers to benefit from $1m Ford and government co-funded handout

General News logo24 Mar 2014

A MELBOURNE-based caravan manufacturer has become the first company to receive funding from Ford, as well as state and federal governments, in the hope that it will one day employ the car-maker’s displaced workers.

The Victorian government announced late last week that Epping-based New Age Caravans had received $1 million from a fund established by Ford and the Victorian and federal governments to help create jobs in Melbourne’s north – one of the areas that will be hardest hit by Ford’s 2016 shut-down plans.

However, while the $3.7 million project that the funding will help kick off will create up to 65 jobs – some of which could be filled by displaced Ford workers – it will also help new Age Caravans establish an “advanced robotic manufacturing centre”.

The funding is part of a $49 million grant program set up after Ford Australia’ s announcement last year that it would quit making the Falcon passenger car and commercial vehicle range, and the Territory SUV, in two years’ time.

The money has been split equally between the Geelong Region Innovation and Investment Fund (GRIIF) and the Melbourne North Innovation and Investment Fund (MNIIF), and is made up of a $30 million federal contribution, $9 million from Victoria, and $10 million from Ford Australia.

“Ford is absolutely committed to transforming our Australian business, which is why we contributed $10 million to this fund to support all employees directly affected by our changes,” Ford Australia president Bob Graziano said in a statement announcing the New Age Caravans funding. “Many of the jobs to be created will be highly suitable for skilled workers from the automotive sector, and contribute to the ongoing development and diversification of manufacturing capabilities in Melbourne’s north and Geelong.” Federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane said the company’s project was a “great example” of innovation and productivity.

“The jobs that will be created by this project are suitable for ex-Ford and automotive supply chain workers, with only minimal retraining required,” he said.

“Australian manufacturing is repositioning to take advantage of new markets and new jobs.

“Using the existing skills base and knowledge of local workers is a priority in this process as we move into a new era for Australian industry.” Victorian manufacturing minister David Hodgett said the New Age Caravans project was the first of numerous projects to tap into the fund.

“This investment in the company's new facility is the first project to be supported by the MNIIF, which will assist local businesses as they seek new opportunities and build on the state’s strengths,” Mr Hodgett said.

The government said more announcements about other projects to receive funding “will be made shortly”.

The fund makes minimum grants of $50,000 to company projects that will generate sustainable jobs in Melbourne’s north, as well as having at least $100,000 in eligible project expenditure.

Unlike federal car industry support, which is capped at about a four in one contribution of car-manufacturer funds to taxpayer support, the MNIIF grant can cover up to half of a project’s expense.

The federal government’s AusIndustry, which administers about $2 billion worth of industry assistance packages on behalf of the Department of Industry each year, is deciding which projects the funding will support.

New Age Caravans is owned by husband and wife team Joe and Gabby Barrasso.

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