The South West Development Commission has unveiled plans to assess the feasibility of an advanced manufacturing and education hub, a 10 to 15-year development which could provide hundreds of jobs.
The commission is preparing to submit an application in the coming weeks for the state government to fund a 12-month study assessing the development and potential locations in the Bunbury-Geographe region.
The current plan would see the hub structured as a common use facility, allowing small businesses to utilise advanced technologies in the manufacturing areas around robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence.
According to the commission's chief executive officer Mellisa Teede, young apprentices would be the primary beneficiaries - with the facility anticipated to provide hands-on training in sectors struggling to find sufficiently skilled tradespeople.
"Small businesses, their employees and their apprentices could come in from TAFE and university and have the opportunity to get some hands-on experience in an industry setting," she said.
"In the mining sector in particular, preliminary evidence is showing that some of the big mining companies, who are supported by the manufacturing sector, are struggling to find tradespeople with the advanced skills they're going to need to support our industry growth.
"With the lithium mining we have in the region, we will be looking at what are some of the components in the value chain that we could potentially produce here in the South West.
"It's vital that we have a pipeline of apprentices coming through the system that are getting this training, understanding and skills and knowledge for the sector.
"It's about being competitive.
"The vision for this hub is quite significant and not only a benefit for the South West region, but potentially for the state."
It is understood the commission is in the process of firming up a number of key local industry stakeholders and local governments to make a modest contribution to the feasibility study, with the City of Bunbury having already pledged $10,000.
WA Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the state government was eager to help build on the region's first-class manufacturing capabilities and help the sector reach its full potential.
"An advanced manufacturing hub would help to diversify Bunbury's economy and create potentially hundreds of skilled jobs for the region," she said.
"We will continue to work towards a feasibility study for this job-creating proposal."
Bunbury MLA Don Punch said he, too, was pleased to see the commission had taken on the idea and was working tirelessly to secure broader support.
"We must continue to diversify our regional economy and create not just new jobs but new careers for people in Bunbury and the surrounding areas if our community is to continue to grow and thrive into the future," he said.
"I am very hopeful the necessary support will be established to enable a feasibility study to be undertaken into what is a very exciting idea.
"Locating a common user facility for advanced manufacturing in the greater Bunbury area where participating businesses can take advantage of the opportunities offered by our skilled workforce and proximity to port and rail infrastructure would secure a new economic future for the region."