FUTURE CQ: What Gladstone needs to thrive
A NATIONAL energy policy, innovative start-ups and small business support have been identified as what Gladstone needs to diversify its economy and create a strong future.
With leading demographer Bernard Salt forecasting Gladstone's population will increase only 2per cent by 2030, a panel ranging from professors to industry and social services experts to Gladstone's mayor weighed in on what the region needs to thrive.
Speaking at The Observer's FutureCQ forum this week, the panel agreed the region needed a higher growth rate than what Mr Salt estimated based on State Government projections.
Gladstone Industry Leadership Group chief executive Patrick Hastings said for Gladstone to continue to be known as the Energy Capital of Queensland, a national energy policy was vital.
"The missing piece of the puzzle is energy policy ... At the moment the market is very disjointed," Mr Hastings said.
He said Gladstone's industry and Australia were marching down the pathway to transition away from fossil fuels, but he said the changes could take 10 to 15 years.
Mr Salt said the Gladstone region needed to consider how it would retain its status as a "muscle town" as Queensland continues to grow and require more power.
Mr Hastings said the region had learned from the last boom that we needed to have infrastructure to cope with an increase in population.
"I don't think we've done enough to diversify our economy to smooth out those bumps along the road," he said.
Gladstone Region Mayor Matt Burnett and CQUniversity associate vice-chancellor for the Gladstone region Owen Nevin said there was already work being done to further support the region's start-ups and small businesses.
Mr Nevin said Gladstone had been chosen to take part in a regional entrepreneur accelerator program.
"Gladstone's been invited to join the MIT REAP program to look at how do we generate those small, diverse start-ups that are hopefully fast growing and innovative employment opportunities," he said.
"In a broad sense, industry in Gladstone shouldn't just be a big multi-billion-dollar plant, it's industry in any shape or form."
Mr Salt's CQ analysis showed Agnes Water was leading the way in the Gladstone region for growth in sole-trader businesses.
Within Central Queensland, Agnes Water had the second highest growth between 2017 and 2018 to the number of sole traders, with an increase of 3.4per cent.
Prof Nevin said this could be due to the coastal town being connected to the National Broadband Network and accepting cryptocurrency as a payment method for small businesses.
Cr Burnett disputed MrSalt's population forecast and listed projects proposed for the region which showed it was already diversifying its industries.
He pointed to projects including Asia Pacific Agri-Corp's meat processing facility, which gained State Government approval in September, Acciona and Renew Estate's solar farms and the Mercurius biofuels project.
"I disagree because (Mr Salt) is comparing it based on basic statistics, not from what the community is seeing and the project proposals that are turning up at my office," he said.
Mr Salt said there was a 27per cent increase to Gladstone's population between 2004 and 2017, which reflected the boom experienced during the construction of the three Curtis Island plants.
He estimated Gladstone's population would be 63,831 in 2030, an increase of 1017 on the population in 2017.