The Toowoomba Region is well positioned to capitalise on a decade-long run of enviable growth thanks to a robust and broad economic base, Mayor Paul Antonio said at last night’s (March 11) Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise (TSBE) function at the Oaks Hotel.

Trade and Investment Queensland Chief Executive Officer Paul Martyn was the other guest speaker.

Mayor Antonio’s 2021 State of the Region address highlighted priority projects which Council, business and industry groups and the private sector are advancing.

“I'm extremely confident that our Region has the resolve and the broad economic base which will drive our future growth,” Mayor Antonio said.

“The Toowoomba Region is fortunate to have proactive private investors who are underpinning the Region’s growth by delivering major projects that diversify our economy and offer job opportunities.

“Council is planning for the future, especially around the provision of a secure water supply that will be essential to service not only an estimated 55, 000 new residents over the next 30 years, but for our expanding industrial and commercial sectors, especially new ventures at the Toowoomba Trade Gateway.”

Mayor Antonio said the broad view of the Region’s economy was cause for optimism, despite a dip in the yearly Gross Regional Product for the year to June 30, 2020, according to new data.

“The Toowoomba Region’s Gross Regional Product (GRP) as at June 30, 2020 was $11.471 billion. This represents a 4% dip in GRP on the previous year,” Mayor Antonio said. (The Queensland economy dropped by 0.46% in the same period, with regional Queensland falling 0.58%. The national economy rose by 0.2% in the year to June 30, 2020)

“While this result is not totally surprising, it is counterbalanced by past growth which has seen the Toowoomba Region economy achieve annual growth of 3.3% p.a. over the past decade.

“On this measure, the Toowoomba Region’s economic growth exceeds the state’s average growth of 2.3% over the past 10 years. (*additional statistics at the end)

“Health and education remain our top two employers respectively. These sectors will continue to expand and will drive future jobs growth. The health care and social assistance sector employs more than 14,300 people (2019/20) and has seen the largest growth in employment over the past decade (more than 4,300 jobs).

“Similarly, the education and training sector remained our second largest employer with more than 8700 jobs. The education sector is expected to grow considerably, creating around 4,400 new jobs by 2041.

“Toowoomba has well established and respected education facilities and we are positioning the Region to attract more domestic and international students under the Study Toowoomba banner.”

On the youth unemployment front, Mayor Antonio said he wished to see more targeted support to match young people with employers or suitable training.

The Toowoomba Region youth unemployment rate was 18.9% in January 2021, which was more than triple the general unemployment rate of 5.8%.

“Council will continue to liaise with the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce’s Jobs Taskforce and the Toowoomba Jobs Committee coordinated by RDA to draw on solutions from community and business leaders. A new Employ Toowoomba website, devised by RDA, is a handy, one-stop shop for job hunters,” he said. See www.employtoowoomba.org.au 

Mayor Antonio said Council’s role was to provide essential community services in an economically responsible manner.

”Local government does not have the resources to shoulder the full cost of providing essential infrastructure to our growing communities in addition to meeting residents’ growing expectations across our other activities,” Mayor Antonio said.

“Council continues to back the Australian Local Government Association’s campaign calling for a fixed 1% share of Commonwealth tax revenue to aid long-term financial planning.

“As part of our 2020/21 Budget, Council devised a dedicated $50 million Pandemic Response Investment program that comprised 64 projects that are being accelerated to stimulate economic activity across the Toowoomba Region, across two financial years.

tsbecrowd“Council has and will continue to invite local firms and suppliers to bid for work programs on essential infrastructure and facility upgrades across the region.

“Council is conscious of a dramatic increase in demand for labour and supplies that has been generated by federal and state government home building incentives.

“We are scheduling future projects to ensure our local workforce can still bid for and deliver these works. Council designed this program of work to complement, not compete with, other private projects.

“As at January this year, we have spent around $8.7 million, with around $10.9 million in other commitments. This equates to 39% of the overall package.

“We’re on track to hit the 60% target we set for the overall program this financial year. Also, our local spending remains high, with 90% of all spending so far with local suppliers."

Mayor Antonio said partnerships with local government bodies, industry and business groups would ensure a collective voice was presented to state and federal governments.

He said the Council of Mayors South East Queensland (COMSEQ) was hopeful a City Deal, (a rolling funding agreement between all tiers of government to deliver a pipeline of investment), would be finalised by the middle of the year.

“A City Deal has the potential to deliver projects and infrastructure that the individual Council members alone could not achieve, such as fast rail.

“The seed of the fast rail idea was developed through the leadership of former COMSEQ chair and Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, where we also saw the beginnings of the 2032 Olympics bid.

“The findings of the Olympic Feasibility Study made it clear that an integrated and enhanced regional transport network would be foundational in order to successfully secure and host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“The recent announcement that the SE Queensland 2032 Olympics and Paralympics proposal has been accepted as the preferred bid at this stage offers even greater incentive to press for funding to realise rail and other investment opportunities.

“While securing fast rail would be the best long-term outcome, we need to act quickly to position our Region to host possible Olympic competition in sports such as mountain biking, shooting, archery, football and even equestrian events.

“COMSEQ previously forecast that hosting the Olympics and Paralympics could be delivered on a cost-neutral basis, in addition to returning billions of dollars in economic uplift to South East Queensland, Queensland and Australia.”

Mayor Antonio said Council was collaborating with higher levels of government to determine the best options for the Region’s long-term water security.

He said the state government’s recent commitment to include the Darling Downs (including the Southern Downs) as one of three regional water assessment projects was a welcome move.

“This project must complement a wider regional water study that will be undertaken by the newly formed Southern Queensland Inland and New South Wales Border Regional Water Alliance,” Mayor Antonio said.

“Regional water security will help to realise substantial growth opportunities via accelerated development in agriculture, value-added product, advanced manufacturing and alternative energy options, among other industries.”
Mayor Antonio said Council was dedicated to facilitating growth across the Region.

“In addition to seeking public feedback to build a community vision for the Region’s growth and development over the next 30 years (to prepare a new Planning Scheme, a Growth Plan to guide population and employment growth and a Toowoomba Region Infrastructure Plan), Council has numerous incentives to encourage development that aligns with strategic objectives,” Mayor Antonio said.

“A CBD incentive is in place to encourage substantial development, which contributed to the Oaks Hotel development. A new industrial development incentive has recently been implemented to encourage the creation of new industrial lots and/or industrial development construction.

“Collectively these have had up to $5 million worth of potential discounts allocated to them.

“A townships specific incentive is encouraging the growth of our regional areas with around $170,000 of discounts provided last year."

Mayor Antonio also highlighted Council’s commitment to supporting local businesses and suppliers, especially around recent permanent changes to Council’s Procurement Policy.

“In the 2019-20 financial year, Council’s commitment to spending locally reached a record $180 million, equating to 57% of expenditure.

“In a further show of support for small business across the Region, Council next week will sign the Small Business Friendly Council charter with Queensland Small Business Commissioner and representatives from Chambers of Commerce and Progress Associations."

The presentation also included an overview of major projects that had recently opened or are about to start at the Toowoomba Trade Gateway, including the Regional Trade Distribution Centre, InterLinkSQ, Global Agrifood Innovation Centre, Envorinex, two medicinal cannabis operations Asterion (Wagners/Wellcamp) and Medibis (Gardners/Charlton), the Wellcamp Entertainment Precinct and the Qantas Pilot Training Academy.

Trade and Investment Queensland Chief Executive Officer Paul Martyn said he expected the economic recovery to accelerate faster than many people had first expected.

“People here in the Toowoomba Region and the Surat Basin are reaching out and taking a gamble and focusing on opportunity,” Mr Martyn said.

“This was one reason that we launched the Invest Toowoomba prospectus with TSBE (and the Department of State Development Tourism and Innovation, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Department of Regional Development and Manufacturing) in September 2020. There is a cluster of investment opportunities here.

“In addition to the airport (Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport) that has opened a trade gateway, the Inland Rail has the potential to position the Region as Australia’s leading agribusiness area.”

Mr Martyn said TIQ was well positioned to help businesses initiate and develop trade links with Japan and the Republic of Korea (Queensland’s second and third biggest trading partners respectively. He said Vietnam, the state’s fifth largest market, presented opportunities for beef, food and resources, while New Zealand was emerging as another safe trading destination with borders re-opening.

Mr Martyn said success for the Brisbane/South East Queensland Olympic bid would be a ticket to global recognition. (A decision on the successful bid is expected in July.)

“One in five jobs in Queensland relies on trade. Queensland and Australia are well positioned in a changed landscape post-covid,” he said.

“Let’s go for growth and take Queensland to the world.”

Toowoomba Region GRP: Top value-added: (Measure of productivity) – for year ended June 30, 2020.

No. 1 Mining contributed $1.51 billion to the local economy (15.3% of total value added in 2019/20, down $153 million)

Health Care & Social Assistance: contributed more than $1 billion in value-add (11.7% of total value added in 2019/20; down $12.7 million).

Construction: contributed $820 million.

Other increases in value added:

• Information, media and telecommunication: (ex-internet) up $19.1 million,
• Financial & Insurance Services: Finance up $56.8 million; Insurance & superannuation up $4.1 million; Auxiliary Finance & Insurance rose by $15.9 million,
• Professional, scientific & technical services: Increased by $8.2 million, except computer system design and related services, and
• Repair & maintenance: Up $10.7 million.

Dominant output groups:
Mining: output measured at $3.093 billion to regional economy (13.9%),
Construction: output of $2.988 billion (13.4%),
Manufacturing: output of 2.163 billion (9.7%),
The three groups account for 37% of total Regional output.

Figures based on Census and other industry and government data.

Caption: TSBE CEO Ali Davenport, Trade and Investment Queensland CEO Paul Martyn and Toowoomba Region Mayor Paul Antonio (right) at the TSBE Enterprise Evening.