The Sunshine Coast has been through some great years and some ordinary years and the recent past has seen the Sunshine Coast economy languish somewhat. But this should be about to change with some significant employment drivers about to inject new mojo into the Sunshine Coast’s economic bloodstream. To understand the Sunshine Coast, you need to understand its employment structure. Strong years have coincided with high rates of population growth and the employment generated by housing this growth.
Businesses in the retail sector have been part of that growth, as have businesses in health care and social assistance – which are the biggest employers in the region and also the fastest growing sectors, closely followed by construction. Tourism is important to the Sunshine Coast but it alone doesn’t seem to have sufficient economic muscle to support the economy in lean years.
Population growth on the Sunshine Coast has been a significant economic driver in the past, and the slowdown in that growth has slowed a growth-reliant economy with it.
There has been a chicken and egg conundrum at work for some years: early high rates population growth (including by retirees or semi-retirees not in need of local jobs) created economic opportunity in things like retail, construction and allied ‘people’ services such as health.
Now the question is which needs to come first: population growth, or employment growth, to spur the economy on again? The evidence is pointing to the latter. Consider the following ‘headline’ drivers identified in a recent economic commentary by Sunshine Coast University:
- The Sunshine Coast Airport will by 2020 complete a near $350 million expansion which will contribute $4.1 billion to Gross Regional Product between 2020 and 2040 and generate an estimated 1538 direct and 693 indirect full time jobs.
- A new masterplan is being developed for a 60 hectare parcel of Maroochy City Centre land known as ‘Sun Central’ which will ultimately lead to billions in new development and all the jobs that go with that.
- The Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital will open in late December 2016 at a cost of $1.8 billion and will join the recently completed Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital, operated by the Ramsay Health Group and built for $150 million. Together with the University they will form a health precinct which will create thousands of new jobs, many of them high paying professional ones.
- Stockland are transforming the nearby area known as Oceanside Kawana into a $5 billion, world class destination with a mix of housing, retail and business uses, including a new town centre.
- The Sippy Downs Town Centre hub is fast taking shape as a retail and business hub which will include a new $80 million, 25,000m2 global headquarters for the Youi Insurance Group. A GP Super Clinic, childcare centre, supermarkets and other businesses are part of the project.
- The University of the Sunshine Coast recently completed over $81 million in new buildings on campus in financial 2014-15 and has ample land for ongoing expansion.
- Construction of the $2.5 billion Palmview master planned community by Investa is about to commence in 2016.
- A $1.134 billion upgrade of a section of the Bruce Highway to a six lane highway will commence in 2016
- Stockland’s Caloundra South $5 billion master planned community is about to commence and will create more than 20,000 jobs in construction alone over the life of the project.
Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital
These are just the major projects. Bear in mind the Sunshine Coast has been traditionally a small and micro business market. In 2014, of all businesses on the Sunshine Coast, 62% employ no one (other than the owner) and a further 26% employ between 1 and 4 people. Only 2% of businesses employ more than 20 people. Meaning not only will the major projects listed above begin to have a dramatic impact on the mix of businesses active on the Sunshine Coast, they will also inject new energy into the smaller business sector through flow-on effects.
Plus – and this will be a telling factor in lifting the fortunes of the Sunshine Coast – many of the new jobs associated with these major projects will be professional, higher paid jobs which in turn will support wider employment opportunities across the region.
The coming wave of employment opportunity for the Sunshine Coast has the potential to transform the economy from one entirely dependent on population growth to one which offers employment diversity and higher order opportunities, which will in turn create a more economically sustainable base to support further population growth. It’s a sign of regional economic maturity and it’s likely to start happening in a big way this year.