Wagga’s anticipated business boom remains a hot topic around the barbecue and in the boardroom – but are we ready for the wave of opportunity to come?
This is one of the key questions to be addressed at this Thursday’s Wagga Wagga Business Summit 2022, hosted by Committee4Wagga.
Rather than another well-meaning talkfest, the interactive format will provide a chance for residents, business leaders and all three levels of government to come together to ask questions, share views and seek practical solutions, according to the committee chair, Adam Drummond.
“What does this mean for the average street bettor, business owner, trades and services?” he asks.
“If we have 6,000 jobs coming up, just in the northern industrial suburb of Wagga, are we going to have enough housing to allow for that kind of migration over the next 20 or 30 years?”
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Business development, energy, economic growth, the tight housing market and the current skills shortage will all be on the agenda as panelists and guests participate in three sessions throughout the day.
Mr Drummond says they aim to discuss the local implications of large-scale infrastructure projects such as the Special Activation Precinct (SAP) and Riverina Intermodal Freight and Logistics Hub (RiFL) projects in Bomen.
The RiFL will be completed in August with the sale of subdivided lots expected to begin in the coming months.
It is hoped that the SAP will create up to 6,000 new jobs in sectors such as renewable energy and recycling, advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, freight and logistics.
It is also estimated that Wagga’s population could grow from 70,000 to 100,000 over the next 20 years.
“We want to start the conversation around all of these investments in Wagga and the Riverina and New South Wales in general,” Mr Drummond said.
“We need to know how this is going to affect us on the quality of life side.”
Business NSW’s Anthony McFarlane will chair the summit along with journalist and broadcaster Genevieve Jacobs.
Mr McFarlane says a recent survey by Business NSW indicates that a lack of skilled workers is the biggest problem holding back the region.
“Overwhelming feedback from our member companies indicates that skills shortages, the inability to find qualified and trained professionals for certain roles, are preventing them from accelerating their growth,” he says.
“La Riverina continues to perform above the state average in terms of business conditions and confidence, but skill shortages prevent us from doing better.”
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He says migration is one solution, but training for the future is key.
“We should certainly consider increasing skilled migration allowances in the short term, but there is more need to better match the needs of academia and industry so that companies have the right graduates and the right skills from our training providers and universities,” he says.
Jillian Kilby of regional development group The Stable will participate in the infrastructure discussions and agrees that we should look closely at regional needs and plan for the long term.
“Infrastructure is science, not art or politics. But we continue to allow political games to influence where the money is spent,” she says.
“We never looked at the next 20 years of funding and allocated it based on priority.”
she says that planning priority is often given to metro megaprojects and that a broader perspective that includes smaller regional projects is needed.
“If we take a step back and look at what matters to the economy, what matters to livability, what matters to my aging parents and what matters to my eight-month-old daughter, we could be spending very differently.”
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Ms Kilby cites the lack of early learning infrastructure in the regions as an example.
“When there is a 1.7 child care place in Hornsby (Sydney) and an eight child care place in Bourke, you need to know what infrastructure we need to provide first,” says -she.
“How do we allow such an inequality between regional and urban services?
Adam Drummond hopes the summit will be another step towards positive change.
“We need to be able to grow our infrastructure at the same rate as we grow the population and we have a lot of people coming to speak at these round tables who are going to be able to give on the – ground information,” he says.
The Wagga Wagga Business Summit will be held at RSL this Thursday, April 28.
Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.