Jun 17

While the COVID-19 health crisis is largely deemed under control, local business leaders have acknowledged that the extent of the economic crisis impacting some industries in the region is only just becoming evident.

Sunshine Coast Business Council Chair Sandy Zubrinich believes the true economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will only be revealed when government support at both federal and state level starts being phased out.

“Stimulus packages and support such as Jobkeeper have been essential in assisting those treading water as they wait for restrictions to ease and — in particular for our tourism and hospitality operators —the essential re-opening of our borders to be announced,” Ms Zubrinich said.

“The real challenge of what lies ahead will only be understood when these come to an end — and it will be very real, particularly given Queensland was already one of the worst performing states economically pre-COVID-19.”

To prepare for this challenge the Sunshine Coast Business Council, which is the leading regional business advocacy group on the Sunshine Coast representing approximately 4,000 businesses through its membership, has therefore taken a leaf from the Prime Minister’s book in establishing somewhat of a regional cabinet.

“I have been delighted at the willingness of our local political and industry leaders to work as a united front— we put out the call to arms and the response clearly demonstrates the level of commitment to work collaboratively to reboot our local economy.”

The ‘cabinet’ includes three tiers of government with Ted O’Brien MP and Andrew Wallace MP providing federal oversight, Jarrod Bleijie MP, Andrew Powell MP, Fiona Simpson MP and Sandy Bolton MP representing state government; our local councils represented by Noosa Mayor Clare Stewart and her deputy Councillor Frank Wilkie and Sunshine Coast Council nominating Acting CEO Warren Bunker and Craig Matheson; and RDA Sunshine Coast represented by Chair Carol Cashman.

The SCBC also identified the key industries and sectors expected to play an important role in the regional recovery in aviation, SMEs including tourism, education, food and agribusiness and the property and building industries.

These sectors are being represented by Sunshine Coast Airport CEO Andrew Brodie; Food & Agribusiness Network (FAN) General Manager Emma Greenhatch; Property Council of Australia’s Regional Chair Brad Williams; Stockland’s Adrian Allen; Master Builders Sunshine Coast’s Will Wilson; UDIA Branch President Carl Nancarrow; and local Chamber of Commerce representatives Olivia Sainsbury from Caloundra and Chris Bell from Cooroy.

The education sector is represented by Tim Wess Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic at USC, Ana Rodger General Manager at East Coast Region TAFE and Grant McDonagh CEO at LOOKNOW Training.

Over the past month, the SCBC hosted three 90-minute Zoom sessions including industry briefings to ensure all representatives were on the same page in terms of the current health of the regional industry and the strength of the major project pipeline as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

“In line with the Federal Government direction, our primary focus is to retain and create jobs and the policies and industry changes required to do so,” Ms Zubrinich said.

“To this end, our priorities include continuing the call for our borders to re-open to stimulate tourism and hospitality and support the many small businesses in this supply chain; keeping major infrastructure projects moving; building investor and business confidence to create the jobs needed to get the region back to work; and building consumer confidence in the region, thereby stimulating spend to support the re-opening of businesses.”

The importance of collaboration was echoed by Member for Glass House Andrew Powell who said a united approach was essential.

“The only way the Sunshine Coast is going to recover, and then go from strength to strength, is if elected officials work with business, industry, academia and, ultimately, the community,” Mr Powell said.

“No one person has all the answers in a situation like this so collaboration is the only solution.”

“We need to get the borders open so we’re not competing with the Gold Coast and Cairns for Queensland holidaymakers and we also need the wedding industry’s COVID-19 Safe Plan ticked off by government immediately.

“Without a doubt the tourism and hospitality sectors — including the wedding industry — are essential. We are a region that thrives on our tourism, our coffee, our food, our natural beauty. Without this, too many will remain unemployed.

“It is also imperative we have a strong pipeline of infrastructure projects on the go and in the wings and that we get our community sport and recreation firing again.”

Master Builders Sunshine Coast Regional Manager Will Wilson applauded the Business Council for having the foresight to create a regional task force to tackle these unprecedented times.

“It is truly powerful to see such a large representation of the Sunshine Coast business community coming together to inform three levels of government where the problems are and will be, and to share what the business community sees as ways for government to support the recovery,” Mr Wilson said.

“My priority is to maintain employment in the construction industry, given it is the largest employer on the Coast representing more than 18,000 direct jobs or almost 12 per cent of employment, as well as the vast number of indirect jobs that support the industry.

“We are fortunate that health is now one of the four pillars on the Coast’s economy because the devastating effect on hospitality and tourism would be far worse if health and construction had not been able to see so many continue to work.

“While the Federal HomeBuilder Grant has stopped the housing sector of construction from falling off the cliff, it is not enough. We need to ensure that the commercial and multi-residential work continues. Right now, that part of the construction industry will come to a grinding halt at the end of this year and early next year when work in progress is completed. The tenders for private sector work, which usually represent well more than half of projects, has dried up.

“We also need to be sure that the supply of shovel ready land is not cut off. Currently most of the work to create new developments has stopped. This could see a new issue emerge in the coming years and stifle our recovery in the longer term if we do not find ways to address this problem.

“It is inspiring to see so many diverse groups coming together as a collaborative team to tackle these long-term issues. This, to me, is the essence of what the Sunshine Coast is about. The culture here is one of collaboration and community and it has never been as important or apparent as it is now.”

Ms Zubrinich shared the sentiment that the path to recovery was expected to be a long one but that the Sunshine Coast region was relatively well placed in terms of development projects provided the investment continued to flow from both public and private sectors.

“What is apparent, is that kickstarting our regional economy will require endurance over an extended period.  Given the calibre of leaders we have working together and the genuine shared commitment to keeping people in jobs, I look forward to sharing our outcomes in the weeks ahead,” Ms Zubrinich said.

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