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Defence spending is helping change the face of the Northern Territory economy for the better.

About $3.5 billion worth of military projects are underway or in the pipeline – and there are billions of dollars more to come.

Economists estimate that every dollar spent on construction yields $3.

Sitzler, which has grown into a national construction company since being formed in Darwin 45 years ago, has won a string of major defence projects.

It employs more than 170 staff itself and uses dozens of subcontractors, nearly all of them based in the Territory.

“Whenever possible, we spend our money locally,” says Managing Director Steve Margetic.

The defence investment is strongly welcomed by business owners – and politicians – because it soaks through the economy.

For instance, Sitzler advertises its work packages on the Industry Capability Industry Network portal known as Gateway.

It then names the companies on the shortlist for each contract, which gives even smaller businesses – many of them family run or sole traders – the chance to pitch their capabilities to those on the list.

“There’s a pipeline of projects coming from Defence,” says Mr Margetic.

Future Territory projects include the Darwin base for 25 of the 29 Apache attack helicopters, which will replace the Australian Army’s 22 Airbus Tigers by 2025. That contract alone will be worth about $500 million.

And there are many non-defence projects, such as the Territory Government’s $400 million ship lift at East Arm.

“All this represents a unique opportunity for Territory businesses to focus and gear up to take part in these projects,” says Mr Margetic.

Covid has made life difficult for the construction industry.

“We need to ensure that the industry is able to continue to operate during periodic lockdowns.

“We fully appreciate that this will require covid management protocols, which the industry has been working on.

“Being able to continue working is critical to manage contractors’ obligations and to maintain cash flow for the extended supply chains in the industry.”

Mr Margetic says the way that construction expenditure filters through the economy benefits a vast range of businesses not directly connected to the industry, such as hospitality, retail and car rentals.

“Construction is a key economic driver – it’s the easiest and most effective way to pump-prime economies.”

Sitzler’s success has attracted a high-quality workforce.

“We recruit a range of people, from apprentices to graduate engineers, specialist operators to senior project staff. We believe in growing our own and training our own wherever we can, but we also work hard to get families to relocate to Darwin.

“There are excellent opportunities in the construction industry. Yes, we work hard, but the rewards are good and it’s a fulfilling career.

“We are seeing the next generation of builders coming through and doing an excellent job. We want to see them progress as they represent the growth needed in local industry capacity to deliver the huge number of work packages coming into the market.

“We will continue to employ more people over this next year.”

Sitzler’s defence contracts are providing jobs for hundreds of workers.

The $747 million upgrade of four military training grounds and ranges in the NT – Robertson Barracks in Darwin, Kangaroo Flats near Berry Springs, Mt Bundey, 75 kilometres south-east of Humpty Doo, and Bradshaw near Timber Creek – is underway.

About 520 workers will be employed on the projects.

Mr Margetic encourages the many SMEs that are busy in the day-to-day running of their businesses to take the time to look up and see the work packages being advertised through the ICN Gateway portal.

The first work packages up for tender are for the four-year Bradshaw upgrade.

Sitzler is also building the $145 million AIR7000 Phase 2B Maritime Patrol Aircraft Replacement project in preparation for the arrival of the Boeing P-8A at RAAF Base Darwin.

It’s not all big military contracts though for the company.

Sitzler built the cyclotron cancer treatment and PET scanner units at Royal Darwin Hospital, plus remodelled the pediatric ward.

“For the past two decades we’ve had highly technical projects running alongside large civil engineering and building works,” says Mr Margetic.

Sitzler is succeeding interstate as well.

For instance, it is upgrading schools in South Australia as part of a State Government contract and is building another servicing and fabrication facility for national company Haulmark Trailers in northern Queensland.

Sitzler’s latest contract is the first stage of the Tiger Brennan Drive flyover at the junction of Berrimah Road.

“We’re very happy to be selected for the work and are looking forward to working with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics to finalise the design and get started on the work.”

The $66 million project will create 80-100 jobs.

Sitzler is also heavily involved in the space surveillance industry.

It won the $97 million contract to build facilities for the Space Situational Awareness Telescope in Western Australia.

The telescope, which monitors satellites and debris to avoid collisions in space, was moved from its test base on a mountain top in New Mexico to the Harold E Holt Naval Communications Station in Exmouth.

“It was an interesting job, highly technical,” says Mr Margetic. “It was pleasing to see how well it came together.”

The company has also recently bid for a deep space facility near Perth.

Sitzler is particularly proud of Tiwi Partners, the joint venture construction company set up with the Tiwi Land Council and Tiwi Regional Council.

The business has just won a $100 million roadworks and earthworks contract at Delamere air weapons training range near Katherine.

As many of the workers as possible will be Indigenous.

The Australian Defence Department plans to spend $12 billion on increasing the military presence in Northern Australia over the next two decades and the US Defense Department $2 billion.