Infrastructure investment, with a particular focus on transport, education and training, was at the forefront of discussion during the fourth annual Sunshine Coast Business Council’s Combined Government & Business Forum.

Sunshine Coast Business Council Chair Sandy Zubrinich said the forum, which was held at USC’s Innovation Centre, was an important collaboration of more than 70 government, business and community representatives who heard from industry experts and shared ideas to inspire positive change.

“While it was encouraging to see how we are positioned in comparison to our neighbours and other similar regions, the focus of the forum was firmly on how we improve our position in the years ahead by getting the infrastructure right to support the anticipated growth,” said Ms Zubrinich.

“We don’t believe one tier of government can do this on their own and we do believe the business community needs to step up when it comes to investment, especially in regards to digitalisation transformation.

“What our expert speakers did confirm is that we are well positioned to capitalise on future infrastructure investment, provided we work collaboratively to get the key projects happening.

“Whilst the infrastructure project pipeline looks strong, there is risk in getting projects approved and shovel ready and creating jobs.

“Investment it is still heavily weighted toward major road projects such as the Bruce Highway upgrades and master-planned developments with increased investment currently in health and tourism. However, the pickup of investment across new industries is slow and imminent elections at a local and state level are bound to have an impact on when these projects commence.”

Director of Transport and Infrastructure at Lambert & Rehbein Steve Williams agreed that there were a number of headline transport projects identified that will underpin investment in the region, however most of the projects remained unfunded and until these are delivered the transport system won’t keep pace with the growth.

Urbis Property Economist Kobus Van Der Vyver reported on how investment was required to hit employment and population targets, drive job attraction and retention and to broaden the economic base of the Sunshine Coast.

While infrastructure was a top priority at the forum, Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington raised the issue of climate change and questioned how the Sunshine Coast will react in future while USC Vice Chancellor Professor Greg Hill spoke about how the university will be crucial in keeping the 16-24 year olds from leaving the Sunshine Coast and ensuring the region had the people, talent and skills required for the future.

APP’s Ross Elliot hosted a discussion about where the jobs will be in 2023 and said nine out of 10 new jobs in Queensland are created outside of the inner city which is at odds with popular — and some expert — opinion.

“What is going to drive growth into the future is very different to the industries we have seen in the last 20 to 30 years,” said Mr Elliot.

“So the big growth in finance which is typical of CBD markets isn’t going to happen in the next 20 to 30 years, instead you’re going to see industries like health, education, professional scientific and technical services surge ahead.

“The great thing about these industries is they tend to be located outside of inner urban areas which provides a great opportunity for places like the Sunshine Coast.

“While the days of big paperwork factories and CBD office buildings are not completely gone, they’re not going to grow as fast as they have in the past so we’re going to see a very different future ahead of us and that just means we need to be thinking differently.

Mr Elliot said while every infrastructure project is vital for the Sunshine Coast, there needs to be a discussion about why things are being built.

“The great thing about the Sunshine Coast is most of the people who go to work and live on the Sunshine Coast have a job within the region — about 100,000 of 130,000 people who have jobs, work locally.”

TAFE Queensland Chief Academic Officer Joann Pyne said TAFE has undertaken research through the National Health Check Australian VET with Jobs Queensland and CSIRO which shows the job opportunities on the Sunshine Coast are in the education and health sectors.

“We have spent a lot of time talking to the industries about the skills they are demanding and how we can best meet those needs through the provision of high quality skills training,” said Ms Pyne.

“We need to be smarter about how we increase skill levels – we need to link up the education sectors and deal with the pace of how things are changing in the digital world.”

Member for Glass House Andrew Powell MP said the Combined Government & Business Forum was essential to ensure politicians, business and community are listening to each other’s hopes and concerns when it comes to infrastructure, jobs and digitalisation.

“People on the Sunshine Coast are crying out for their leaders to have vision and to deliver on that vision and these kind of forums are a great way for us to share our ideas, experiences and aspirations,” said Mr Powell.

“For me, it’s important to ensure we don’t neglect places on the Sunshine Coast like Glass House where we don’t have public transport yet and are unlikely to see it anytime soon, so we need to come up with innovative ways to link the people in the hinterland with the people on the Coast.”

The Combined Government and Business Forum was held at the USC Innovation Centre on Tuesday, 29 October.