ILLAWARRA Business Chamber president Sue Baker-Finch has identified three important policy issues leading towards the 2015 NSW election.
Ms Baker-Finch said the chamber welcomed leadership shown by the NSW Business Chamber in identifying many important issues with its "Unfinished Business: Towards 2015 and Beyond" election campaign.
She also invited more local members to tell the Illawarra chamber what was most important to them.
Ms Baker-Finch said some specific investments and projects that could particularly benefit Illawarra businesses had already been identified because the region still faced a number of challenges restricting economic growth, such as higher unemployment, lower participation rates and ongoing redundancy announcements in certain sectors.
"We are in transition and the NSW government needs to ensure the regulatory framework supports businesses to thrive and prosper," she said.
"The IBC requests the next government to fund and deliver more infrastructure in the Illawarra. Research recently completed for us by PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that the Illawarra's transport connectivity falls below the standard of connectivity in similar-sized regions in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. There is a vast amount of research that shows that transport connectivity is vital to the efficient labour market function and increases in importance as the economy becomes more knowledge-intensive. So improving connectivity now is critical to supporting the diversification of the Illawarra economy towards a more knowledge-based and service sector economy."
Primary transport infrastructure projects the chamber intends to push are the M1/F6 extension and upgrades to the Illawarra rail line to reduce travel time to, and improve connectivity with, Sydney. Ms Baker-Finch said that would unlock greater employment and investment opportunities.
The Albion Park Rail bypass would address the bottleneck on Illawarra's internal road network and improve transport flows through the region.
"This is really important, not only to our local Illawarra residents but vitally important to growing tourism," she said.
Improving employment outcomes for young people in the Illawarra remains a top priority.
Ms Baker-Finch said an average youth unemployment rate of 16 per cent compared with a national average of 12 per cent was unacceptable. Many factors contributed to that, such as low local job creation, education levels, access to transport, lack of networks and support and lack of work experience.
But the chamber believes many of those can be addressed by improving the quality of vocational education and training at schools. That includes improving career information, advice and guidance to engage students more effectively and implementing minimum achievement standards for literacy and numeracy to make senior high school students more job ready.
The Illawarra chamber also wants to argue for decentralisation of government services.
Ms Baker-Finch said that would be a very strong and direct way to support the region's economic diversification, as it would help address poor labour market outcomes.
She said lower property costs, higher employee retention rates, proximity to Sydney, ready access to skilled workers and university graduates meant the city could provide everything.