MERCURY CAMPAIGN - Main Event
The economic case for a convention centre in Wollongong is strong, with research predicting it could inject more than $12 million annually into the local economy.
Market research conducted last year, and obtained by the Mercury, indicates a fully fledged convention venue would attract at least 80 extra events to Wollongong each year – with an additional 40,000 people drawn to Wollongong annually for conferences.
With Wollongong already proving its ability to attract large event organisers, the research, conducted last year by property market consultants MacroPlan for Tourism Wollongong, predicts a new venue could inject more than $318 million into the local economy over the next 20 years.
The $318 million would include about $91 million in direct tourist spending over two decades.
This, MacroPlan forecasts, would involve the creation of between 240 and 280 additional jobs in Wollongong. This figure includes 70 full-time equivalent jobs at the convention centre – 46 operational staff and 100 casuals – and about 115 indirect jobs helping service the facility.
With the Wollongong workforce comprising a large pool of students and older people, plus relatively high unemployment, creating hundreds of conference-related jobs would help keep these people in the city, rather than leaving or travelling to Sydney for work.
Wollongong’s profile would be ‘‘elevated’’ as a business location and this could act as a catalyst for economic development.
‘‘The strength and overwhelming positive economic profile for tourism in NSW enhances the development opportunity for a convention centre, which would generate significant benefits for the Wollongong region,’’ MacroPlan’s study concludes.
‘‘The decline in the manufacturing sector is making it increasingly important for the Wollongong economy to invest in other growing industries such as the retail and services industry.’’
This would help ‘‘future-proof’’ the local economy by developing more sustainable and diverse industries to provide job opportunities.
The MacroPlan research evaluated a convention centre somewhere in the Wollongong CBD – not specifically the revamped WEC. While the actual number of new jobs may turn out to be lower than that forecast, given there are already many people employed at the WEC, the research shows the economic impact a convention centre can generate.
And the study makes the point that there are benefits other than the immediate economic impact – such as helping develop a night-time or ‘‘24-hour’’ economy in Wollongong. As a tourist drawcard, convention visitors would not only add to the number of tourists visiting, but would stay for longer.
The projections of demand for the centre are based on a ‘‘base case’’ scenario – midway between the conservative and the optimistic forecasts. It predicts the centre would attract 25 to 30 major conferences a year – with at least 1000 people at each – as well as about 50 smaller events.