The theme of this year’s State of the Region address, by Toowoomba region Mayor Paul Antonio, was ‘Strength, Stability and a Mighty future’. The annual address to the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise (TSBE) event was delivered to an audience of more than 200 representatives of business, industry, government and community groups.
Mayor Antonio said that he was pleased to report that the state of the regional economy was very strong.
“We continue to outperform similar regional centres and our numbers rank well against State and National indicators,” Mayor Antonio said.
“Last year the Gross Regional Product for Toowoomba Region went over $10.81 billion, having grown 4.5% in the previous 12 months.
“With job growth expected to outpace population growth, our Council will play a key role in delivering and improving lifestyle attributes that will continue to attract skilled workers.
“Our region’s competitive advantages are enhanced by our leading education, health and retail facilities.
“The education sector has seen upgrades at many state and private schools, as well as TAFE and USQ’s recent substantial investment.
“Similarly, the city’s private hospitals have completed multi-million dollar upgrades.”
As part of the address, the Mayor launched the Southern Queensland Innovation in Export Hub.
Mayor Antonio said the purpose of the SQ Export Hub is to help Small to Medium Enterprises in the Food and Agri, and Oil, Gas and Energy Resource sectors, to expand their customer base, identify counter-season opportunities and spread economic risk between domestic and global markets.
“The Federal Government has allocated $840,000 to our Region, matched dollar for dollar by TSBE, to support the establishment of the Southern Queensland Innovation in Export Hub, centred in Toowoomba,” Mayor Antonio said.
“The SQ Export Hub has the potential to grow the region’s economy through increased export activity and put Southern Queensland well and truly on the national and international map as a major sustainable supplier of quality food and Agribusiness products.
“The SQ Export Hub is an opportunity to showcase to the world the oil and gas initiatives and technologies, which have developed from the Surat Basin expansion.”
Mayor Antonio said investment from public and private sectors has produced significant economic growth in our region.
“Council continues to work with its economic development partners to leverage off major infrastructure and private investment projects such as Asterion, the Pulse Date Centre, AAtlis, and numerous large scale horticultural projects to maximise opportunities for the Region,” Mayor Antonio said.
“Over the last few years, a confident private sector has also built the Waltons Stores, Gladstone Hotel redevelopment, Burke and Wills Hotel redevelopment, Quest apartments, QIC Grand Central development and New Hope’s New Acland Coal future developments are also taking shape like Interlink SQ and heavy industries beginning the development process in our industrial hub.
“Not to mention the significant land developments that are underpinning the population growth throughout the region.”
Mayor Antonio said he was delighted that the development application for the Qantas Pilot Training Academy was starting to move.
“This is a project, not only of regional importance but one of state and national significance,” Mayor Antonio said.
“The Academy will be a great asset for our Region and will support our bold ambitions to build on the potential demand for aviation training and significant maintenance and logistics industries.
“This investment in the academy underlines the faith currently being shown in the Toowoomba Region.”
Mayor Antonio outlined how the Council was also both a major investor and a significant employer in the Region.
“Council’s $548 million financial plan will maintain and upgrade existing services and facilities while planning for a brighter future,” Mayor Antonio said.
“A capital allocation of $82 million in this Budget emphasises Council’s strong focus on investing in infrastructure renewal programs across our extensive water and wastewater networks, existing road network and other community assets to look after what we have built in the past.
“Few organisations deliver the range of services that local governments provide for their customers daily.
“$59 million is set aside for upgrade projects while $70 million has been allocated for new capital projects across the region.
“The Queensland Treasury Corporation has maintained Council’s credit rating as Sound with a Neutral Outlook – a strong base for future growth with a buffer for emergencies.”
Mayor Antonio said at the same time, Council is also refreshing the fundamentals of land use planning in our region through a review of our Council Planning Scheme.
“Any change to the Planning Scheme is always a great challenge to balance the needs of the development industry with the expectations of the community expectations on regional growth. This is a challenge we take very seriously,” Mayor Antonio said.
“The current planning scheme review is well underway and after much public consultation, we have just begun the complex process of collation and analysis of feedback.
“Our Region has undergone significant change in recent years and we have been fortunate to secure unprecedented investment into the region.
“How could we have known in 2012 that an airport would be built, that the Federal Government would finally approve the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, that we would have a new datacentre, solar farms, or the initial approvals to commence construction of the Inland Rail in our region?
“The question arises, what will be next for our region? What will our planning policies need to accommodate over the next six to 10 years? Autonomous vehicles? Fast Rail? Smart Technology? Will it be intensive agriculture, and what will this look like?”
Mayor Antonio outlined the importance of the Federal Government as an investor in the Toowoomba Region.
“In the lead up to the Federal Election, our Council outlined the key local, regional and national projects that are priorities for the Toowoomba Region,” Mayor Antonio said.
The Mayor also outlined the Council’s support for the SEQ Council of Mayor’s proposal for a City Deal that brings together all levels to find new funding options for economic and social infrastructure in our growing region.
“The SEQ City Deal will only be positive for the Toowoomba Region, with the next wave of transport projects delivering a 45-minute region that would mean a 45 minute journey by rail from Toowoomba to central Brisbane,” Mayor Antonio said.
“Our region is already very liveable; passenger rail makes us more accessible.”
Mayor Antonio said added that, as a Council, we have backed the Australian Local Government Association’s campaign calling for a fixed 1% share of Commonwealth tax revenue to aid long-term financial planning.
“Local government cannot be left to shoulder the full cost of providing essential infrastructure to our growing communities in addition to meeting residents’ expectations across our other activities,” Mayor Antonio said.
“We will continue to advocate for our fair share of funding to achieve our community goals and ambitions.”
Mayor Antonio said that our Toowoomba Region has a mighty future.
“We are within 24 hours drive of more than 85% of the nation’s population and we are connected by road and rail to the Port of Brisbane,” Mayor Antonio said.
“There is a real opportunity to leverage the substantial road, rail and air infrastructure investment in the region to grow freight and warehousing related businesses.
“Already new investors are looking to Toowoomba as a strategic transport and logistics hub.
Mayor Antonio said that rail will play a big part in our Region’s future.
“I was excited to hear recently at a Darling Downs and South West Queensland Council of Mayor’s forum that the resumption of rail freight operations to western and south-west Queensland is imminent,” Mayor Antonio said.
“The important part of this reinvigoration of rail transport is that it will be driven by the private sector looking at opportunities where there is a gap in the market.”
Mayor Antonio said that there is great excitement around the opportunity to be part of an Olympics bid in 2032.
The proposal has now been put on the table by all levels of government and we are on the cusp of making history with the IOC steering towards a regional Olympics,” Mayor Antonio said.
“The potential of an SEQ Olympics bid opens up unlimited possibilities for us to host pre-Games training camps and Games events.
“The Toowoomba Region is greatly excited by the opportunity the SEQ Olympics has put on the table, for all levels of government, to potentially become a 45 minute region.”
In closing his address the Mayor spoke of the importance of the TSBE, as an economic partner.
“Partnerships are important in any Economic Development Strategy and I consider TSBE as one of the most important partners for progress,” Mayor Antonio said.
“Since its establishment as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Council, TSBE has grown considerably to be regarded as the leading regional economic development organisation across Australia.
Mayor Antonio said he was proud to report that our region is strong, stable with a mighty future.
“We boast unlimited prospects and an enviable lifestyle with leading health and education resources across safe and welcoming communities, Mayor Antonio said.
“I’m confident that our combined efforts will strengthen our rich traditions and ensure current and future generations take full advantage of our bold ambitions.
“The past years have been an exciting time to be part of the Toowoomba region and I believe that the best days of our region are ahead of us.”
Caption: Bruce McConnell (Food Leaders Australia), Geraldine Doumany (Food Leaders Australia), Paul Hodgson (NERA), Mayor Paul Antonio (Toowoomba Regional Council), Ali Davenport (TSBE), Lance McManus (TSBE)