Pictured: Regional Australia Institute chief executive Su McCluskey and Business Council of Australia deputy chief executive Maria Tarrant. Credit: CHRISTOPHER CHAN
Wollongong may have beautiful beaches and a picturesque escarpment but, according to attendees at a Regional Australia Institute forum, the city also has an image problem.
The forum, held yesterday, is part of a series of community conversations being hosted by the institute across Australia, examining data revealed through its new interactive map showing the "regional competitiveness" of Australia's 560 local government areas.
Residents from the Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama LGAs were invited to attend and discuss what they wanted for the future of their region, in an effort to understand the underlying reasons behind the institute's data.
Institute chief executive Su McCluskey said forum attendees had identified the Illawarra's beaches, weather and location among its biggest strengths, but believed the biggest challenge was how outsiders viewed the region.
"People think this is a great place to live and work, but a lot of people outside of Wollongong don't know it," she said.
"So people drive past when they are going from Sydney to the South Coast and they don't see what Wollongong has to offer.
"People also acknowledged that there is a need to be able to create jobs for young people here and attract businesses.
"But there was a feeling that the region was not marketing itself as well as it could."
Ms McCluskey said the residents had recognised the region's other strengths as strong education facilities and health services, but said the region needed to work harder at keeping its graduates and helping establish new businesses.
The Regional Australia Institute, along with forum co-organisers the Business Council of Australia will use the outcome of these discussions - which are also being held in Townsville, Darwin and the Western Australian Pilbara region - to help inform their policy discussions and future research.