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Australia's Silicon Valley

It may surprise some people to hear that the future hub for business in Sydney may not be the city's CBD or Parramatta, but in fact the inner Sydney area of Ryde.

While many conjure up images of wide, leafy residential streets when they think of Ryde, it is often forgotten that apart from being a great place to live, the growing area is also one of Australia's economic powerhouses, with an output larger than that of Hobart and Darwin combined.

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Of course this is due in large part to Macquarie Park. Often dubbed 'Australia's Silicon Valley', Macquarie Park has been one of the country's most successful business centres, with 12 of the world's top-100 (by marketing capitalisation) located there.

The sheer economic numbers at Macquarie Park make for staggering reading. The area alone has a $9.5 billion economy, making it the eighth-largest in Australia for economic output. More than 1,900 businesses are located there. And it employs 62,000 people, a figure that has significantly grown in the past five years. While many would be content with those numbers, the City of Ryde Council - which oversees Macquarie Park - has bold ambitions to grow the business park even more.

The push is being led by Mayor Jerome Laxale, who happens to be a business owner himself. Through his experience in the business world and as a long term Ryde resident, Mr Laxale is overseeing a new Council strategy to attract more companies to the area, with a particular focus on start-ups and small business.

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"The City of Ryde has some big plans to encourage more business activity and continue to grow our economic output, because a stronger local economy brings benefits to the whole community," Laxale says.

"Macquarie Park obviously plays a crucial commercial role for Ryde, Sydney, Australia and the globe as a whole. It is home to some of the biggest companies in the world and is a provider of jobs and business for people in Ryde.

"But that does not mean we cannot open up Macquarie Park further to ensure it continues to grow."

The City of Ryde Council is convinced it will achieve this growth through investing in and supporting projects that promote innovation and encourage business expansion in Macquarie Park.

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Macquarie Park has a range of networking and collaboration opportunities through local business chambers and private organisations such as Business Alliance Australia.

Just recently, the Council became an innovation partner of the globally-recognised Venture Café, a fast-growing network of independent organisations that promote commercial collaboration through regular programs and events. Located at Macquarie University (itself a great asset to Ryde's business ecosystem), it is expected that Venture Café will help attract start-ups to the local area and link the City of Ryde Council, Macquarie University and the business community to one another, leading to greater collaboration between all parties.

The City of Ryde Council is also a big supporter of the Macquarie Park Innovation District. Created in 2015 by leading corporations such as NAB, Optus, Johnson & Johnson and Macquarie University, the Macquarie Park Innovation District seeks to improve innovation within the district through key networking events and collaborative projects.

The City of Ryde Council is certainly putting its money where its mouth is, investing more than $17 million over the next four years on developing the local economy and assisting local businesses. A considerable portion of this spend is designed to attract start-ups and more small-to-medium businesses to Macquarie Park.

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"In order to grow we need to make Macquarie Park open to all kinds of businesses. We are already a long way down the road to achieving that through the infrastructure we have in place as well as the rich pool of workers who are currently based there.

"The next stage is enticing new businesses and start-ups to Macquarie Park and other parts of Ryde to show them just how much their organisations will thrive in our environment."

And rather than simply ride on the economic coat-tails of Macquarie Park, the City of Ryde Council has big ambitions to expand the commercial growth, not just in Macquarie Park, but in the entire Ryde area.

"We want Ryde to be recognised as Sydney's premier location for employment and globally competitive businesses of all sizes.

"Thankfully we have the right Council make-up and leadership team who have the foresight to achieve this goal."

This part of the Council's business growth strategy primarily focuses on opening up Ryde to make it easier for new businesses to establish themselves and then be provided with the appropriate support when and where it is needed.

Fostering an environment that encourages investment, local jobs and business opportunities is also a crucial component. While a lot of this money is being spent on more traditional ways to support business, the Council is also directing a portion to revitalising its town centres and commercial areas to attract new businesses and increase the diversity in business offerings. An example of this is the Shop Shapers program, according to Mr Laxale.

"The Shop Shapers program will refresh the street experience across Ryde and increase the economic activity in the area by supporting local businesses to enhance their street appeal and improving their shopfronts," Mr Laxale says.

"For our initial roll out, more than a dozen businesses are taking part in the program, which means they received expert advice on the steps they could take to improve their shopfronts as well as a $500 grant to assist them in executing the improvements.

Mr Laxale is also a big proponent of creating a vibrant night time economy in Ryde as a way of attracting new business to the area.

"We recently put into effect a Night Time Economy Action Plan, which aims to support local businesses to become involved in the night time economy by introducing simplified processes, localised support as well as marketing and promotion," the Mayor says.

"The night time economy in Ryde it is all about tapping into unrealised potential.

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"Previous Councils were reluctant to look at this as an area for business growth as many viewed night time activities as simply attending the local pub. But this is a very narrow view on what opportunities can be gained in a night time economy.

"What our action plan focuses on is making night time activities more family friendly and inclusive for all so that the whole community can take part.

"Making it easier for traders to extend their hours is also a key objective, while the Council has also got a range of events that it either stages itself or supports that are all aimed at making the night time experience more vibrant for consumers, all of which will ultimately benefit local businesses."

For some, the business agenda the City of Ryde Council has laid out may seem a little too far out of reach. But Mr Laxale makes no apologies for being ambitious.

"When you combine elements like Venture Café, the Night Time Economy Action Plan, making it easier to start and grow your business, it is all about the - to use a famous catchphrase - 'build it and they will come' mantra," Mr Laxale remarks.

"We want to provide the right environment for all types of businesses - from the small family corner store to the big multinational - to have the opportunity to establish themselves, hire the right people, grow and ultimately achieve their goals and be as successful as they can be."

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The Council's ambition is assisted by a number of strategic advantages. Ryde's location for instance - just over 12 kilometres from Sydney's CBD. This means the area has skilled workers from the North Shore and Western Sydney, up to the Central Coast who all work in Ryde and its surrounding suburbs.

The area's cultural diversity is another feature that makes it so welcoming. More than one-third of Ryde's residents have Chinese or Korean ancestry and half speak English in addition to another language. And the area still has those wide and leafy residential streets as well as a multitude of parks and open spaces that it is synonymous with.

For Mr Laxale and the leadership team at the Council, building on Ryde's strengths and encouraging businesses of all sizes to call Ryde home is all part of their long-term vision for the area.

"We want to make Ryde a city in which, from cradle to grave, you can be local and stay local," he says.

"That means you call Ryde home, your children go to school and university here, you do all your shopping and socialising here, and importantly you run your own business or are employed right here in Ryde.

"There are not many places in Sydney or Australia for that matter where that could even be viewed as a possibility. But here in Ryde it is happening and this Council is going to do all it can to ensure it is fully realised.

"The future is really exciting for business in Ryde."

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City of Ryde - a snapshot

  • Population: 124,798
  • Local jobs: 101,844
  • Local Business: 12,254
  • Gross Regional Product - $16.8 billion

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