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Len Piro

For more than 10 years, Tonsley Innovation District has been a leader in innovation for South Australia. To mark Tonsley’s first decade of success, Renewal SA sat down with some of the District’s greatest champions, those who have actively contributed to its collaborative ecosystem and influenced the exemplar incubator it has become.

Full interview: Len Piro, Former Executive Director of Manufacturing, SA Government

What was your role when Mitsubishi announced it was closing?

I was Executive Director for Manufacturing and Innovation in the department of Manufacturing Industry and Trading Resources.

We’d anticipated that a closure was on the cards. With automotive plants, you can tell by their volume reductions and when they were around 10,000 cars a year you know that’s not a viable number. We’d been in discussions with Japan and locally about the situation and I think the writing was probably on the wall.

What was your view about what this site could be and did that run counter to the prevailing view?

A lot of people thought that it would just be a site that would roll over into housing because of the proximity to the city and transport hubs. Others felt it would just be a transport area where we’d store things for distribution around Adelaide as well. 

Because we’d already had Mobil close, Lonsdale close and then Tonsley close, we were concerned in government that we were de-industrializing the south of Adelaide. We had to do something to turn that around but rather than just push more businesses here, there had to be something that made those businesses sustainable. That’s why the site was designed the way it is

What might people overlook about Tonsley?

I think they’d probably overlook the fact that we didn’t just try to create a park here. We tried to create an environment for industry to collaborate and work together. Linking them with other industries, linking them with universities and the engineering base there, linking them with TAFE and generally creating an environment where we get more networking between businesses is the way to go for the future of industry.

What's your favorite physical part of Tonsley?

I love the MAB. I think everybody thinks of the MAB when they think of Tonsley because it is the centerpiece of the site. It’s where all the activity was with the building plant and this adaptive reuse that has occurred here, where we could have knocked this building down and just had a blank canvas. We used this because it had a lot of carbon content in it, a lot of steel, a lot of concrete and we reused it in a very innovative way.

How do you think South Australians should feel about Tonsley?

I think they should feel very proud of Tonsley. When they walk through this site there’s so much to see and so much to be pleased about in terms of where this community’s going. This community here is about new jobs and advanced industry and about more importantly, collaborating with our universities and our TAFEs. 


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