The opening of a giant new Bunnings at Kembla Grange is the realisation of a dream for complex manager Liz Politis who has been working at the Warrawong store since high school.
Over the last 17 years she has risen up through the ranks on a career path she was always determined to follow. She has never had any doubt about this being where she wanted her career to take her.
Ms Politis is managing a workforce of 200 people and the opening of a massive new complex that has injected many millions of dollars into the Wollongong economy during construction. It will create an additional 90 jobs with its opening.
"I have been with Bunnings since I was in Year 10. I knew from when I started that I would fall in love with this place," she said.
The good news for Wollongong is the new Bunnings is one of several big projects coming to fruition during COVID-19.
It is not only Ms Politis's dreams being realised. And it is giving the Wollongong community a reason to believe that the city will not only get through COVID-19 but come out the other side in a relatively strong position.
This week 100 business and industry leaders attended an Illawarra Innovative Industry Network (i3net) breakfast and heard how more than 1000 jobs and more than $100 million in contract work is likely to be generated in the local economy by two more big projects in the next two years.
3000 hydrogen cars a year built at Port Kembla
H2X Australia's Peter Zienau said the company was down to three possible sites for a hydrogen car factory at Port Kembla and would make the decision on the final site in two weeks.
H2X will then invite the community to see where tens of millions of dollars will be invested and more than 700 new jobs created within two years, as well as many opportunities for other businesses to provide skills, services and support.
While there are other applications for the technology, including environmental conversion of buses being rolled out in 2021, the first cars are due to roll off the assembly line during the second half of 2022, re-establishing car manufacturing in Australia. And the goal is to make more than 3000 environmentally friendly vehicles per year when production starts.
"The more cars you produce the more rapidly the expensive price tag for these cars will come down. So our estimate is there will be several thousands cars produced by us on a yearly basis within the first two to three years. The numbers will then rise sharply. The large volumes will come when the every-day consumer is able to purchase one of the hydrogen vehicles."
Mr Zienau said that would however be dependent on supporting infrastructure such as an adequate number of refueling stations and hydrogen supply. He expects hydrogen cars to be popular because they are faster to refuel and generally have a greater range than electric cars.
Gas terminal expansion equally as significant
Australian Industrial Energy's Peter Mitchley revealed how $76 million in contract work will be awarded to local businesses and their skilled workforces at the Port Kembla Gas Terminal.
Mr Mitchley shared an artist's impression of what is being built at Berth 101 near the Coal Terminal. He said since the time the project started in 2018, the gas shortage had only worsened and the need for such a terminal had grown.
He said the original intention for the terminal was to provide base load gas to industrial customers across NSW. But in 2019 they started talking about opening the facility up to multiple users on an open access basis which is a world first that will reduce the price of gas.
"There is no end of business opportunities to try and fill the demand. Fortunately for us, Wollongong and Port Kembla, our project is by-a-country-mile the leader in terms of how far we have come."
The project hasn't happened as quickly as was hoped in 2018. But with the greatest gas shortage likely to occur by mid 2023, Mr Mitchley said that would play in the Port Kembla terminal's favour. It has the opportunity to be ready and gain an advantage over AIE's competitors.
Construction will cost $250 million and create 150 jobs. A workforce of 40 to 50 will be required once the terminal is operational.
"I am pleased to say we are making good progress. We have a 14 to 16-month construction period which is relatively quick. We have a short pipeline of 6.5km to build across to Cringila. And we already have the vessel on charter with us."
Mr Mitchley said the design was now 99 per cent complete and once the terminal is built and up to 50 ships arrive each year there will be enough gas at Port Kembla to more than cover the NSW peak demand and about 75 per cent of the state's gas demand.
"It is a very large and exciting project and quite fundamental for the gas market. It will be a significant game changer in terms of price and what it does for industry."
There are already expressions of interest from potential customers for all the terminal's capacity. And Mr Mitchley said once it was built, AIE would turn its attention to the development of a rapid response gas fired power station at Port Kembla that would create many jobs and millions of dollars in investment.
Paul Scully shares in Wollongong's gas terminal excitement
Member for Wollongong Paul Scully described the projects as very exciting and topical opportunities. He said.public debate about the demand for and the use of gas was likely to only increase. And hydrogen was likely to become an important part of the region's steel manufacturing and industrial future.
Mr Scully said what excited him about the gas terminal and hydrogen car factory both occurring at Port Kembla was the strong commitment being made to local content.
Movers and Shakers is a new weekly feature of people doing significant work in or for the Illawarra community. Do you have an interesting business story you would like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.