In 2016, NEC Australia invested $25 million in Wollongong to set-up an office that has since created 130 new technology-related jobs.

The ICT solutions and services company has injected more than $40 million into the Illawarra economy during the last three years and plans to be there for some time.  

General manager Martin Braithwaite is the leader behind the Wollongong operation and said the business is always looking for new contracts.

"Personally it was the best move I have made for a long time. I have lived in many places around the world and I love this place," he said.  

"The transformation of Wollongong from what it was to what it is today is a remarkable change. I see it only getting better with the university really pushing growth within the innovation centre and the region.

"One of the biggest pluses, when I moved here, was being located on UOW's Innovation Campus. What NEC is doing in the innovation space is we are moving more into biometric security, artificial intelligence, 5G and the Internet of Things. Being located in the innovation campus gives us that sense of community with innovation".

Mr Braithwaite said NEC Australia has built a centre of excellence hub for NEC. The Melbourne office is the head office, Adelaide is a large engineering office and the Wollongong operation is where the main contract to date has been to support transport for NSW. The other centres support Wollongong in that.

He said Wollongong was a great place for NEC to expand and tap into what is happening at the innovation campus. "We need to work much more closely with what's going on within those startups".

Having companies such as NEC Australia in Wollongong means graduates can embark on challenging careers and work on ground-breaking and globally significant projects in their home town.

"It is so important for me to be able to offer big city jobs to a regional centre," Mr Braithwaite said.

"One of the things I have found since moving here is the sense of community which translates into a higher retention rate. Often these young people have grown up together, gone to the same school together and know each other which is a big plus. 

As NEC Australia increasingly moves into other project areas having a big impact on the IT industry, such as building Safer Cities, biometrics, security and digital transformation, it will move more from an IT support structure to a business structure.

That will allow it to work more closely with other businesses on their IT strategies, automation and biometric security.

Mr Braithwaite said another great thing about Wollongong was it is not only promoting itself as a city of innovation. The recent 10-year economic development plan released by Wollongong City Council is an example of how the city is looking at how it can grow innovatively.

And it is the unique position of being able to do that as a regional centre that can capitalise on being so close to Sydney.

Mr Braithwaite said being able to employ more than 90 per cent of its staff locally has made Wollongong a real success story for NEC.

One thing Mr Braithwaite will never do is take a city that embraces innovation, changes and has such a great lifestyle for granted.

And that is Wollongong's advantage. And while it will keep growing in the digital transformation age.

To learn more about investment opportunities in the Illawarra, get in touch with our team. 
Picture: Sylvia Liber.