Austin Fagan: Progress Switchboards
Austin found the opportunity and the people to bring his business dream to life in Tasmania
As northern Tasmania’s only switchboard manufacturer, the team at Progress Switchboards know which switch to flick. From keeping the lights on at Blundstone Arena to their work for the new Crown Plaza Hotel atop Hobart’s Myer, they’re a high-tech switched on team.
The average person may not give much thought to switchboards but stay in a hotel when the switchboard malfunctions and you suddenly realise their significance. No air-con. No WiFi. No power. No lighting. No EFTPOS. No climate control, to name a few. Things quickly become uncomfortable. The team at Progress Switchboards know just what’s behind those complex panels where various circuits are connected and controlled.
Progress Switchboards was founded by Irishman Austin Fagan and is based just out of Launceston. The team of three began operating out of a small 3 x 6 metre workshop and now they boast 19 staff and a 1 500 square metre workshop.
The business builds switchboards for distribution. From the water industry, to hotels, to hospitals, to large buildings, the team build every switchboard from scratch. They specialise in electrical switchboard manufacturing, industrial automation, process control and systems integration.
“We work with mini hydro stations, sewage pump stations, treatment plants, irrigation, the mining sector, hotels, the university and more. We’re currently working with the Launceston General Hospital as well as the new Crown Plaza Hotel,” Fagan explains.
Fagan is an industrial electrician who came to Australia to work on the main switchboards for the Sydney Olympic Games. He then worked for a Victorian electrical company, which frequently sent him to Tasmania where he spotted a gap in the market for quality switchboards.
By 2001, Fagan had moved to the island and established Progress Switchboards. He gathered a small team around him and worked hard to build a reputation in his new home. “Tasmania was a difficult market initially…and we needed to prove ourselves,” explains Fagan. “It took time to build our reputation.” Today, 30 to 35 per cent of Progress Switchboard’s work is for Victorian clients.
“We have a strong team of Tasmanian-based skilled, creative employees within the business. These include a project manager, draft persons, sheet metal fabricators, electrical trade persons and service technicians for ongoing programmed maintenance. This has enabled us to grow and move out of the state and be competitive to mainland opposition,” says Fagan.
Originally outsourcing the sheet metal work, Progress Switchboards grew to a point where it was viable to purchase sheet metal machines and move to larger premises. In the last 18 months, the business has invested in laser machines, a computer numerical control (CNC) machine and in-house powder coating machinery to allow full in-house capability.
Progress Switchboards train most staff from scratch, finding it is most effective to bring on apprentices for on-the-job training. Fagan has had no difficulty sourcing skilled workers in Tasmania.
“The quality of the people and workmanship is high here, which is why we have remained in Tasmania,” says Fagan. “Their loyalty and quality of work is second to none. We work hard, in turn, to train them well. When they come on with us, they end up with a qualification, whether that be an industrial electrician or in fabrication.”
“There are many other benefits to being based in Tasmania,” adds Fagan. “We’ve overcome the disadvantages relating to electrical components mostly manufactured in Europe by developing our own inventory for product. We operate a lean manufacturing system that keeps costs low. Despite considering moves at different stages, Tasmania is certainly the best place for us.”
Are you interested in making a move? Make it Tasmania.
For information on starting a business in Tasmania look through our stories or visit Business Tasmania.