Ideas rise as Port Kembla stack falls

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, Illawarra Business Chamber chief executive officer Debra Murphy, Councillor Michelle Blicavs and the council's economic development manager Mark Grimson. Picture: GREG TOTMAN
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, Illawarra Business Chamber chief executive officer Debra Murphy, Councillor Michelle Blicavs and the council's economic development manager Mark Grimson. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

The demolition of the Port Kembla stack last week was a symbolic event for Wollongong at a time when new economies and new businesses were emerging, civic leaders were told on Wednesday.

The shift in the city's economic base has been put under the microscope with the release of Wollongong City Council's Economic Development Strategy 2013 to 2023 document.

The document, officially launched by Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, examines how the city has transformed since the early 1980s when BHP began to downsize its workforce at the Port Kembla Steelworks.

Not surprisingly, the strategy found the main economic challenge facing Wollongong was the need to increase employment opportunities.

Wollongong's youth unemployment rate was 15.8 per cent in 2011 compared with the NSW average of 12.8 per cent.

"The employment challenge is larger than the official statistics suggest," the strategy document found.

"Some 27,660 workers living in the local government area commute out of the city each day for work.

"The majority of these, or around 16,553 people, commute to Sydney and surrounds. This makes the Wollongong to Sydney route one of Australia's busiest commuter corridors."

The document also revealed that about 35 per cent of Wollongong workers with a graduate diploma and graduate certificate commute to work outside the city.

"This reflects a number of factors including a lack of opportunities in Wollongong along with opportunities for better pay in Sydney," the report said.

The strategy was a two-year project written by members of the Economic Development Advisory Board, which is made up of councillors and key industry representatives, including Illawarra Business Chamber chief executive officer Debra Murphy.

At yesterday's launch, Cr Bradbery said Wollongong's economy makeover had seen it move from being heavily reliant on the steel and mining industries to one focused on advanced manufacturing, mining services and technologies.

Cr Bradbery said the city was also emerging as an important business and financial services centre and was home to the University of Wollongong, one of Australia's leading universities.

Between 2006 and 2011, the biggest change in the Wollongong economy was the growth of the healthcare and social assistance industry, with a 2.3 per cent growth in the market share of the local economy. This was followed by education and training up 0.9 per cent, accommodation and food services up 0.8 per cent and mining up 0.7 per cent.

He said the solution to resolving the employment challenges needed a co-ordinated approach between all levels of government, the business community and residents, yet council was playing a strong role in promoting economic growth.

"I think Wollongong has positioned itself well for future economic activity," Cr Bradbery said yesterday.

"We are being proactive in promoting the region in terms of attracting investment and we are trying to position ourselves in a better way to deal with fluctuations in the economy and keep an even keel in our local economy and promote jobs."

Mark Grimson, council's economic development manager and a key contributor to the document, said the council could help support economic development through civic leadership, marketing, business support, delivering a planning system that encouraged investment and employment, and advocating long-term planning and funding for key infrastructure projects.

"For council, it's about working with all the key stakeholders to really look at all avenues through which we can promote and grow, and not only assist existing businesses but also to promote Wollongong as a place to invest and encourage new businesses, who might be looking to relocate, to put Wollongong on their radar," he said.

Cr Michelle Blicavs said the strategy would be used to help inform the annual work of council's economic development unit. "It's important for us to be able to have something that we can take to investors, and we can go to business, and say: 'Wollongong is the place to do business and this is why'."


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