An Illawarra-based fintech startup is aiming to be the only ASX-listed company headquartered in Wollongong, but said its plans could be scuppered by a lack of affordable housing in the region.
Mitchcap was founded in Wollongong in 2018 by former GE Capital general manager Paul Mitchell.
The company provides finance to equipment dealers, with a specialisation in caravans, boats, bicycles and motorbikes. Mitchcap recently completed a $15 million capital raise and secured $275 million in credit from Macquarie Bank.
While the company hit pause on its previously announced plans for an IPO, Mr Mitchell said that goal was still on the table once the market conditions were right.
"Our dream is to be a publicly listed company, on the ASX, headquartered in Wollongong," he said.
Since the delisting of Wollongong Coal and SkyDive Australia's move to Sydney, the Illawarra has been without an ASX-listed business headquartered in Wollongong, despite major listed companies such as BlueScope, South32 and Boral having significant footprints in the region.
Mr Mitchell headed down the M1 from Sydney in 2018 with his wife Stephanie - originally from the Illawarra - and began Mitchap then, but as the business has grown has had to fend off Sydney-based financiers who assume the business will move to the city.
"A lot of people said you couldn't do it down here and you would have to go back to Sydney," Mr Mitchell said. "I've even had big, institutional investors - tongue in cheek - say, now we're getting bigger when are we moving the business back to Sydney?"
Changing locations is not a decision Mr Mitchell is contemplating.
With over 50 per cent of the 25-person headcount graduates of the University of Wollongong, Mr Mitchell said he's hoping that Mitchap can be part of the growing number of tech start-ups turning the Illawarra into Silligong Valley.
Launching the Wollongong 2023 investment prospectus Wollongong City Council general manager Greg Doyle said the city was an attractive investment location due to lifestyle and proximity to Sydney's airports.
"We're in the prime location for those who want to enjoy a more relaxed pace and lifestyle while also having easy access to the rest of the world," he said.
This was something Mr Mitchell agreed with, noting the Illawarra's lifestyle proposition was a big draw card for attracting mid-range talent to Wollongong, but this was imperilled by the "disaster" of increasingly unaffordable housing.
"Cost of living is critical," he said. "If [employees] have got a better lifestyle, it costs less to live [in Wollongong] that gives us a competitive advantage.
"If property prices double every year and keep up with Sydney, there's no advantage to us anymore, which is a huge risk to the ecosystem."
Mr Mitchell said local and state governments needed to unlock land for affordable housing, particularly in the southern suburbs, but as businesses such as his and others delivered strong results from the Illawarra, investment interest was only going to grow..
"If your results are there, and your people are there, there's no reason to leave. Why would you leave an engine room, which is where we are."
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