Moderator. Richard Walker has been CEO since 1994 of Macquarie Research Ltd, the resource and consultancy company of Macquarie University. He is a member of Sutherland Shire Council’s Economic Development Committee, and he addresses us on "The role of local business in economic development".

Richard Walker

Sutherland Shire Council’s key economic directions are:

Economic activity is based on creating opportunities for local employment and a provision of local services. A balanced economy is achieved through an effective employment strategy, industrial strategy and retail and business strategy.

At present in the Shire, more than two-thirds of the work force travel outside the Shire to work. This ratio is slowly changing, but it is not changing fast enough. The problem is that there’s excess retail and inadequate industrial space. When I use the word industrial, I mean businesses of all sorts. I think there is a misconception, that industrial means smoke stacks. If you went to the North Ryde area today, you wouldn’t see any smoke stacks, and yet there is a lot of industry there. Following on from this example, the nature of industrial areas in the Shire is changing. The location of new businesses depends on traffic access and a skilled workforce. We have plenty of skilled workers in the Shire and in the last 30 years the workforce educational level has increased. In particular, our children are very highly educated and, as a result, most have to leave the Shire to get jobs that are appropriate to their training.

The Shire is an area of medium to high economic status. Residents and children in the Shire are of higher education and more skilled than previous generations. This means that they have to leave the Shire to get to work. Industry such as "bulk goods retailing" provides mainly low skilled jobs, which means there are not enough higher skilled jobs to provide employment for our children.

There are a number of industrial precincts, with an abundance of fairly old establishments, which probably need to be re-developed. There is some spare area but this is usually at one extreme of the Shire or the other and is often very difficult to get to. Some of the Shire’s industrial precincts are:

l Engadine [0.62ha] l Menai [9.2ha]

l Heathcote [5.29ha] l Taren Point [165.21ha]

l Kirrawee [58.11ha] l Kurnell [447.3ha]

l Miranda [8.31ha]

Many new technology enterprises can be located in commercial office buildings. Modern manufacturing plants are less polluting and usually located in industrial parks near similar industries. They need access to good infrastructure, high quality residential areas for their staff and a business friendly Council.

The Shire commercial centres were traditionally linked to the shopping centres, along the railway; and in new plans, at Menai and Southgate.

Traditional strip shopping centres

New planned centres

Cronulla

Southgate Sylvania

Caringbah

Menai Marketplace

Miranda

Sutherland

Engadine

 

Certain key challenges are facing the Council. There are only four large employers in Sutherland Shire, two of which are the Hospital and the Council. Most employers, in Australia, have fewer than 50 employees. Here, in the Shire, we miss out on the gap between the 50 and the larger employers. Our unemployment rate is low, but most of the workforce is employed outside the Shire, and there is a decline in employment and manufacturing. The impact of industrial activities on residential and environmentally sensitive areas causes a conflict which we term "development pressures".

In transport, the Shire experiences inadequacies of public transport and poor interchange facilities. Therefore, there is a high level of use of private transport, causing traffic congestion. Commuter parking has equally become inadequate.

As to industrial growth, we need opportunities for more enterprise located in the Shire. This could be achieved by creating industrial parks for the existing firms and establishing an incubator for new start-up companies. We also need to investigate the viability of retail centres. This can be achieved by finding alternative uses for the less viable centres.

The Council has decided to re-establish the Economic Development Committee. It has commissioned sectoral studies to enable the establishment of long-term strategies, similar to those of Ryde Council. Council has also obtained funding for a business incubator and is re-assessing industrial land assets. It has been decided that there is a need to raise awareness of the Shire’s attributes and its development plan to attract medium to larger companies to the Shire. In fact, if you talk to the State Government, it doesn’t even think of us as a place to locate new international industries in Sydney.

This is an impression of the incubator that is being established next door to the Loftus TAFE. Rising two storeys, it has potential to establish 30-40 small to medium enterprises within it. We are hopeful that this incubator will encourage entrepreneurship to the Shire. This is a start, but it is not going to solve our employment problem in the near future.

Shire residents set a very high value on their environment. This can be seen from many surveys that have been done in the Shire in the past few years – very high support for environment issues. Already some environmental industries, plus two large environmental organisations, exist in the Shire:

We should try to attract more environmental manufacturing and service industries, because this is a very large industry area and it is growing rapidly – already a $16.7 billion industry annually in Australia.

We also should look at revitalising industrial land. A lot of this land is not being used effectively. It is occupied by small to medium companies who often have outdated plant. These types of areas need to be re-developed to allow newer, modern industrial plants to be established.

We should also be business friendly. I think the problem with business-friendly does not mean developer friendly. It covers all sorts of business – commercial, professional and industrial. Council is looking to launch a business portal – a "one-stop shop" – where people can contact an actual physical and/or web-based place in Council, to answer all their queries. We should be seen as working with business rather than opposing business, and

we should publicise the Council policy – to encourage new business in this area. From an Economic Development Committee point of view, we would like more business input.

I think one of the problems is, we face a perception that was illustrated in the Leader. It is a perception related more to flat development than to business development per se. The council has looked at the problem of providing employment and has devised strategies that will lead to more opportunities... A community where we can live, work, play and retire within the geographic boundaries of the Shire.