The top US diplomat in Australia says convincing University of Newcastle graduates to stay in the city is one of the keys to its revival.
US chargé d'affaires James Carouso arrived on Monday on a three-day tour with a small delegation from the American Chamber of Commerce in Sydney, including the chamber’s chief executive, April Palmerlee, and representatives from US conglomerate General Electric, med-tech giant Boston Scientific and engineering multinational AECOM.
The group visited the Hunter Medical Research Institute, where they spoke to researchers about their work on cancer and other illnesses, and marine technology company BlueZone.
Mr Carouso likened Newcastle to port city Baltimore and former steel centre Pittsburgh, which are embarking on renewal programs, one based on tourism and the other on bio-technology and its well regarded universities.
He said Newcastle had the potential to reinvent itself along similar lines and already appeared to be making headway.
“As they say, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and I think Newcastle has admitted it had a problem and now is trying hard to figure out what it wants to do with its infrastructure and the strengths it has,” he said.
Pittsburgh had avoided trying to recreate past glories, “kissed goodbye” its steel industry and adapted its skilled workforce to smaller enterprises.
“Which is apparently what you’re doing here as well,” Mr Carouso said. “I went to BlueZone, which is this little marine technology company, very cool, and what I also liked was it’s in a centre with all these other SME-sized, slightly technological [firms]. They take a small niche of technology and do something with it.”
Mr Carouso, a career diplomat with a background in economics and finance, said retaining the city’s best minds was critical.
“You’ve got to bring DINKs, double income no kids, into the city, and you have to take all those kids who go to the university and get them to stay. And the way you do that is to have a vibrant restaurant and entertainment scene and pleasant living conditions. You’re clearly creating that here.”
He identified the city’s old buildings, which had “a lot of character”, as an asset which could be turned into lofts or work spaces.
Mr Carouso was posted in Australia in the early 2000s working on the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement.
He returned in July last year then assumed the role of chargé d'affaires when former ambassador John Berry left in September 2016. The Trump administration has not yet named a new ambassador.
He said he had come to Newcastle to find out what was happening outside the major state capitals.
“I noticed when I got here a year and a half ago that we have a tendency to focus on Melbourne and Sydney. We’re in Canberra because that’s the capital. We have a concert in Perth, so we go there.
“And the rest of the country is, not forgotten, but we don’t visit. We don’t know what’s going on.
“So I invited some people from the American Chamber of Commerce in Sydney to see what’s going on in Newcastle and see what we can learn, what business opportunities there are, and there’s always something interesting, just as I found out by going out to the hospital.
“My goal is to identify those areas then see if we can continue the conversation. Again, as a US government [representative], unless I see some gee-whiz technology that our defence people might like, there’s not a lot I can do except put them together.”