The Illawarra is a region of opportunity.
Blessed with a wealth of natural resources, one of Australia's busiest ports and proximity to both Sydney and Canberra, the region has a lot going for it.
It is easy to see why so many people want to live and work here.
Two of the key costs holding back businesses of every shape and size in the Illawarra are labour and energy costs.
It is very costly to recruit and retain key staff in the region, particularly when we are often competing with Sydney-level salaries.
This pressure is further exacerbated when workers cannot find affordable housing in our area.
Key workers in our region are spending on average 40 per cent of their income on rent, compared to the 30 per cent national average.
There are 22,700 key worker households in housing stress.
Addressing the critical housing shortage facing workers is one of our key priorities.
At Monday night's meeting of Wollongong City Council, Councillor Tania Brown called for council staff to undertake an audit of all development applications that include affordable housing.
We strongly support this, and all actions by our councils to what is within their control that can speed up the delivery of more housing.
These also include identifying landholdings for the development of affordable housing and increasing density in well-serviced locations like Warrawong, Corrimal, Dapto, Oak Flats, Kiama and Nowra.
On Tuesday, the NSW Premier, Chris Minns, also announced that the NSW Government will establish a series of priority development zones located near public transport across Sydney, to boost the state's housing supply.
This is a great step that we hope to see replicated near our underutilised transport corridors.
The Government can go further by utilising AI to speed up approvals, disentangling state and local government planning systems, introducing standardised housing designs and ensuring key worker housing is included as part of all Government-led hospital and education developments.
Without affordable housing, some existing residents and businesses will no longer be able to afford to stay here.
We will also not be able to attract our share of migrants to the region to reduce our workforce shortfall.
Affordable housing needs developers and investors, and to attract them we need a range of incentives including a vibrant CBD and good public transport.
These two things are key to helping solve the affordable housing crisis and as well as overall regional growth and investment.
We will continue to advocate for governments at all levels to adopt the solutions outlined above and that appeared in our region-specific affordable housing report, launched in July.
The existing costs of energy are sky high, and this is an ongoing concern for businesses, particularly given the fact that in July this year electricity prices rose by 20-25 per cent.
As we shift towards net zero it is critical that government takes into consideration the need to ensure downward pressure on energy costs.
We have all seen a lot in the media about the proposed Illawarra Offshore Wind zone.
Whilst many people want more affordable energy and cleaner energy, it seems that despite offshore wind being able to deliver both of these, the 'not in my backyard' mentality has some momentum.
If the offshore wind zone was not in the Illawarra, would these people still be opposed?
Without a shift to renewable energy, we are not going to be able to meet our net zero by 2050 targets, and as many scientists and environmentalists have stated, there will likely be no more whales or birds to save if we don't meet these targets. A whole of system planning approach will be needed to meet the net zero by 2050 target.
This will require fundamental changes to the way we generate, store and use electricity - including new technology, investment and infrastructure, and reform to policy and regulation as required.
It will also require a significant skills development in this space as workers transition from fossil-fuel related industries to renewable energy related industries.
As a region, we need more long-term thinking on a range of issues.
We need to keep asking ourselves where we want the region to be in 50 years' time.
We need to think about our kids and our grandkids and what their future looks like.
There are many challenges businesses will face over the coming decades and the least we can do is help them seize opportunities as they arise that will help keep this region being the best it can be, even if that means change in our backyard.
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