A City in Transition

A City in Transition


By Patrick Hastings, CEO, Gladstone Industry Leadership Group


GLADSTONE has been under intense scrutiny in recent times as a town in a bust cycle, but this is not an accurate portrayal of what is actually occurring. 


It would be both unfair and incorrect to suggest that Gladstone is not experiencing significant challenges.


The challenges are real and they present themselves in a number of forms, most noticeably in the housing and employment space.


It’s no secret that Gladstone’s community and the region are hurting, but so is the rest of Australia and the world.  The good news is; it doesn't have to be doom and gloom for us.


According to an article published in the Australian earlier this year, Dr. Philip Lowe, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, was positive about Australia's economic performance post the mining boom. He said our economy has proved more resilient than expected.


"A few years back when we were looking down from the peak in the mining boom, there was considerable trepidation in some quarters about how Australia would manage over coming years," he said in a speech.


"As things have turned out…we have managed pretty well so far, despite what has been a fairly difficult environment. Over the past two years, the prices of our commodity exports have declined by 40 per cent. Mining investment has also declined by almost 40 per cent, which is the equivalent of nearly 3 per cent of GDP. Yet over these two years, our economy has continued to expand at a reasonable pace, with growth over 2015 having been a bit stronger than was earlier expected and not too different from the long-term average."


Like the rest of Australia, Gladstone is in a transitional phase. We are transitioning from a construction boom - a boom of proportions we are unlikely to see again - into an operational state. Due to the scale of construction, this transition has been rough and exacerbated by the fall in global commodity prices that continues to put pressure on existing industry. These challenges are surmountable and highlight a few areas that indicate there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some of these indicators include:


  1. Gladstone Industry Leadership Group members have collectively contributed over $1.1 billion in local contracts, wages and salaries to the 4680 postcode in the last 12 months. Members include Boyne Smelter, Cement Australia, Gladstone Ports Corporation, NRG Power Station, Orica, QAL, Rio Tinto Yarwan.


  1. LNG is well into the operational phase, which means we should see a steady local workforce on Curtis Island moving forward.


  1. Whilst many are predicting doom and gloom for the property markets, the reality is that house sales and rental occupancy rates have started to improve.


  1. It is true that many small businesses are closing their doors, but at the same time other small and medium businesses continue to open in Gladstone. The good news is these new businesses are in areas that are diversified and away from Industry and engineering.


  1. We continue to see strong growth in our tourism industry, particularly the cruise market.  There are eight confirmed cruise ships harboring in Gladstone next year and the end goal is to attract even more.


  1. Our port remains a key part of the State and Federal Government’s strategic plan for the economy. Currently the Queensland Government is in consultation with the port authority, local government, state agencies, industry and other key stakeholders to prepare a draft master plan.


In order to expediate our transition and solidify our long-term position, there are some areas we need to be smarter about.  Firstly, we must innovate if we wish to continue to attract big projects and minimise impacts in the future. 


Another area that requires our focus and support is our local businesses, no matter their size.  They must now operate competitively on local, state and national platform. Doing so increases the attractiveness of the region and helps to ensure growth in local spend from big business. 


We also need to continue to diversify our economy. It has become increasingly apparent over the last two years that regions and towns that are reliant on one industry - whether that be manufacturing, mining, tourism or agriculture - are highly susceptible to influences outside their control.


The more diverse our community, the more stable it becomes.


For Gladstone, this means we need to continue to grow our tourism industry, export our expertise nationally and globally (ie. grow our business platform outside of Gladstone) and look to identify new products and services that we can deliver. 


Commodity prices remain subdued and costs in Queensland continue to escalate. There is no immediate change to this scenario in the foreseeable future so we must adapt.  We need to look at more effective and efficient ways to do business moving forward to ensure a strong and sustainable Gladstone into the future.


Finally, we must improve our opinion of where we live and of Gladstone itself. We need to recognise all that our town has to offer and the ways in which we can utilise that offer to improve our economy and our community.