Uni forges Wollongong rebirth: Pittsburgh mayor

Former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy helped transform the US city from dying to vibrant. Picture: WOLTER PEETERS The former mayor of Pittsburgh has praised University of Wollongong initiatives to bring the Illawarra’s economy into the 21st century.

Credited with transforming the rusting steel capital of the United States, Tom Murphy stressed that university research was key to the new economy.

‘‘We’ve been there, done that,’’ Mr Murphy said on a recent visit to Sydney.

‘‘It’s the first time I’ve heard of an Australian university that is commercially successful.

‘‘Most people in Sydney have told me that that isn’t the case.’’

His comments come as half a dozen of the region’s entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to a panel of investors at the university’s Innovation Campus this week.

The initiative is part of a series of measures to create a so-called ‘‘ecosystem’’ to encourage technology start-ups based in the Illawarra.

These include:

❏the StartPad, an incubator office space in central Wollongong;

❏a monthly networking club for entrepreneurs with guest speakers;

❏the Pitching Plate;

❏a venture capital fund specifically for the Illawarra; and

❏a planned $20 million office block for start-ups at the Innovation Campus.

Although based on the extraordinary success of Waterloo, a regional town in Canada, the measures are similar to those enacted in Pittsburgh.

‘‘You have a generation who will not make the transition easily,’’ Mr Murphy warned.

‘‘You are going to have people who are going to beat up your politicians to save the mill.

‘‘The harder part is the cultural stuff.’’

If Australia’s other steel city, Newcastle, is anything to go by, saving the mill would be a mistake.

John Tate watched the industry slowly die through the 1980s and then pack up altogether a month after he became Lord Mayor.

‘‘At the time. I thought it was terrible,’’ he said.

‘‘We were losing steel and all the downstream industry. Then very quickly, I realised we were the lucky ones. I realised we had the opportunity of the cleaner air and the better amenity.’’

His Wollongong counterpart, Gordon Bradbery, disputes the contention that steel will cease to be a part of the region’s economy, but he concedes the city is at a historic juncture.

‘‘It’s an incredible honour to be in this role at this time,’’ he said.

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