About 20 per cent of Wollongong workers commute at least 50 kilometres to work, a leading economist says.
An industry luncheon on Thursday sought to discuss the economic and housing outlook for the Illawarra.
The ‘Economic Outlook Luncheon’ was hosted by the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s NSW Southern Chapter at City Beach Function Centre.
Speakers included Dr Alexandra Heath, head of economic analysis at the Reserve Bank of Australia.
During her address, Dr Heath said from a demand perspective, the Illawarra region has experienced a pick-up in population growth.
“Some of this has come from overseas students attending the University of Wollongong, and some has come from people migrating to the Illawarra region from Sydney,” she said.
“Although the Illawarra region is a little older, on average, than the rest of Australia and Sydney, it still has a large working-age population.
“This is partly because its geographic proximity and transport infrastructure allow people living in Wollongong and the Illawarra region to commute to Sydney.”
Dr Heath said about 20 per cent of Wollongong workers commute at least 50 kilometres to work.
“This is one of the highest rates in the state,” she said.
“Unsurprisingly, five of the seven areas with higher shares of people commuting more than 50 kilometres are also within commuting distance of Sydney.”
Dr Heath said Illawarra residents are well-placed to benefit from the fact that some of the fastest-growing areas of Sydney are in the south and south-west, including the proposed “aerotropolis” around the new airport at Badgery’s Creek.
She said access to these growth areas will be enhanced if some of the recently announced transport infrastructure plans are realised.
“Although people from the Illawarra region can and do commute to Sydney, labour market conditions in the Illawarra region itself have also been strong recently.
“In combination, these factors mean that there has been strong employment growth for those living in the Illawarra over the past five years and the unemployment rate is close to the average for NSW, which is, in turn, lower than the Australian unemployment rate.”
During the address, Dr Heath also said strong population growth and economic prosperity associated with strong labour market outcomes have led to higher housing prices in the Illawarra region.
“Just as in Sydney, developers have responded to the higher prices, and dwelling investment in the region has increased,” she said.
“Also similarly to Sydney, there has been a debate about whether the infrastructure has been growing fast enough to accommodate the needs of an expanding population and the increase in construction that goes with that.”
UDIA NSW has become a leading industry body representing the interests of the NSW property development sector.
UDIA has recently revamped its Illawarra presence with a new regional manager, Keiran Thomas, who worked in the Department of Planning for 10 years before starting his own Wollongong-based planning business.
“The outlook for the Illawarra is really positive,” Mr Thomas said after the luncheon.
“There are signs we’re bucking the NSW and national trends and that we’re in a better position than Sydney.
“We have strong employment and housing growth which will keep the Illawarra growing, with the right support from government.”