At the opening of the Hunter Research Foundation Centre an update was provided on the Hunter region economic indicators, which is an outstanding source of information for local Hunter businesses.
The take home message in the headline indicators was one of optimism and opportunity led by lower unemployment than the NSW average, growth in full time employment, building approvals up and a substantial infrastructure investment pipeline.
The opportunities for the region are immense and if realised will continue to put Newcastle and the Hunter front and centre on the National and International stage.
The infrastructure investment pipeline, estimated at $2.3 billion dollars combined residential and non-residential, provides a once in a generation opportunity to leverage better infrastructure, including transport, to promote our buoyant services economy.
According to the foundation, current levels of employment in the services sector sits at 80%, which has grown 26% over the last decade. Key services include professional, health, administrative, social, arts and recreation. Given that the services sector makes up 80% of our employment, the time is nigh to capitalise on existing projects, such as the transport interchange, light rail, law courts, new space, the airport and Williamtown upgrade and use them as catalyst projects to garner further investment in the region.
These projects demonstrate to the community that projects can be built and must be coupled with a strategic planning framework that provides the direction for a region or city.
Exploring the possibility of ‘city deals’, a system that has worked so successfully in the UK, should be encouraged. A city deal is a model of infrastructure funding and delivery that provides opportunity for neighbouring councils to collaborate and agree on infrastructure priorities, increase the value of investment and depoliticise infrastructure funding.
One of the key considerations when prioritising funding in the city deal model is the ability for the infrastructure to be funded to deliver increased productivity and jobs.
Global accounting firm, KPMG identify three key areas for investment and funding in the UK example, namely transport, housing and regeneration investment. All of these are currently happening right here in the Hunter. Our transport networks are improving, building approvals are increasing and the CBD is going through an extensive revitalisation.
To realise this opportunity, we have to be open to new ideas; the public and private sectors must collaborate and work off each other’s collective strengths. Vital to this is infrastructure and the funding of infrastructure.
Successfully identifying and prioritising infrastructure – funded and built to consolidate ongoing competiveness and attractiveness of the region for the services sector and unlock areas for future housing – will solidify the positivity currently being reported by the foundation and will be good for the economy and good for the Hunter.