Wipeout? The Gold Coast and Tweed surfboard manufacturing cluster and local economic development
The Gold Coast and Tweed coast region is an archetypal Australian high amenity coastal area. It is also home to a local surfboard manufacturing industry of international standing, with well over one hundred separate but frequently closely related firms located in this littoral zone. This paper explains the rise and enduring influence of the Gold Coast/Tweed surfboard manufacturing agglomeration through the conceptual lens of the new industrial districts literature. We explore the many multi-scalar challenges the local industry faces in order to remain viable in the longer term. Based on interviews with 19 active participants in the Gold Coast/Tweed surfboard and ancillary manufacturing industries during 2010, we find that a combination of high quality surf, an established surfing culture, local planning instruments, and ready accessibility to high quality material suppliers, have facilitated the emergence and subsequent evolution of the local surf industrial district. However, our research also finds this local cluster at a crossroad. International competition - exacerbated by Australia's high exchange rate and cheap local 'backyard producers' - threaten cluster members' already slim margins. The ongoing structural ageing of the cluster's chief operators, driven in large part by an inability to attract younger workers/entrepreneurs, is at least partly explained by the precarious and penurious nature of employment and pay in the sector. The highly individualistic and independent nature of most surfboard manufacturers - once a key feature of the cluster's 'industrial atmosphere' - has become something of a weakness with the industry unable to collectively agree on the creation of a formal government/peak industry organization to auspice accredited training and industry-specific lobbying.