Australia: Future looks sunny

We thank Sunshine Coast Council Mayor Mark Jamieson for contributing a column for this edition of ThreeSixty and welcome contributions, story suggestions and ideas from our readers.

I will start and end with one proposition – 'the future is here'.

That is our ethos on the Sunshine Coast and it is only fitting when we are considering not only where our region is at now, but also what lies over the horizon.

'The future is here' embodies not just who we are now, but our value proposition and where we intend to be as we travel over that horizon.

We are bringing the future to us, shaping it, staring down the challenges and creating opportunity as we go.

We are being bold and unpredictable, innovative, creative and entrepreneurial.

We are keeping our businesses and our people connected and at the forefront of the main game. Importantly, our efforts are woven together with a clear, dynamic and achievable vision for the region and plan for our economy.

Our vision for the Sunshine Coast is based on the premise that future cities are healthy, smart and creative. And we believe that future is here on the Sunshine Coast.

Our vision is supported by a transformational agenda strongly anchored in building our new economy, which has been a key objective for our Council since we released our Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS) in September 2013.

REDS sets out a bold but achievable plan to build a $33bn economy by 2033, with 100,000 new jobs in high-value industries, 20% of our goods and services exported and household incomes above the Queensland average. We are also making sure our outstanding environmental assets remain just that – outstanding – and a valuable community resource for generations to come.

The Sunshine Coast will be a healthy, smart and creative cityregion that has its own identity and is intimately connected to the world.

I am told constantly by people I meet throughout Australia and across the globe that our vision and our economic development strategy for the Sunshine Coast is realistic, dynamic and achievable. It is a vision that is centred on the future prosperity of our residents, the liveability of our communities and the economic fulfilment that they can (and should) deliver.

We are reshaping the economy, encouraging investment, establishing the drivers of new employment, stimulating confidence in the marketplace and giving confidence to our community about their own futures.

Our Regional Economic Development Strategy is more than just a blueprint. It is being implemented through new precincts, new infrastructure and a more globally focussed business community helping to shape our future.

There really is no better place to be – and there is room for many more to get involved. We are now seeing the results of having a clear, dynamic and achievable plan for our economy in place.

The Sunshine Coast has been independently ranked as the second strongest performing regional economy in Queensland for the last two years and we have been consistently recording some of the highest levels of business confidence of any region in Queensland over that time.

The region is experiencing an average annual economic growth rate of 4.09% – a full percentage point higher than the nation's. Our unemployment rate now sits at 4.7% – lower than for the state of Queensland and at least 50% lower than what it was in 2012 – and what is particularly pleasing is that our youth unemployment has dropped more than 5% in the last 18 months.

In an economic context, we are in a position that is not the 'usual place' for our region. Instead of lagging behind State averages and other regions as we have historically done, we are out in front.

Tourism continues to be a key part of our landscape and last year we achieved our best domestic visitor figures for more than a decade and our international tourists spent more than ever before. We are one of only four Australian regions on the world's Smart 21 communities list for 2017.

The Sunshine Coast is also proving to be a great place for quality exporters with businesses like Youi, Rockcote and Gourmet Gardens basing themselves on the Coast and achieving fantastic results locally and globally.

A key objective of our vision and plan is about providing confidence – both to the marketplace and to our community about their future. Our council understands the importance of putting the right settings in place to build that confidence and maintain momentum.

SMART CITY DEVELOPMENT

The Sunshine Coast has also been recognised by Infrastructure Australia as one of five cities – in addition to the State capitals – that will drive the productivity of the Australian economy. To this end, we are pursuing infrastructure solutions that will build an unparalleled economic fabric such as the delivery of Queensland's first international broadband submarine cable.

This is infrastructure that will not only provide the Sunshine Coast with a clear competitive edge for business and industry, but also improve global connectivity for communities across south-east Queensland and the rest of the state.

Investment in new development and infrastructure is on a significant growth trajectory, with building approvals in 2015-2016 at an eight-year high at $1.3 billion worth of construction – more than double what it was in 2012. We have more than $10 billion on public and private projects both delivered or in the pipeline.

Work is already underway on Australia's first truly smart city – our new city centre in Maroochydore. Bernard Salt describes the new CBD as the 'missing link' that will transform the Coast and deliver jobs and growth for decades to come.

From the ground up, the project incorporates the digital infrastructure and solutions that will create a genuinely dynamic business and living environment – from sensors for parking and public lighting to Australia's first underground pneumatic waste collection system. This is a city centre that is a magnet for investment and innovators. Expressions of interest submitted for the initial precincts had a construction value of more than $400 million.

AIRPORT EXPANSION

The expansion of the Sunshine Coast Airport is now locked in and on target to be completed by Christmas 2020. All approvals are in place and finance has been secured for the construction of the new runway. Palisade Investment Partners were announced as our new commercial partner in the operation of the airport which welcomed one million passengers over a 12 month period for the first time in 2016.

Pre-construction and early works on the new runway, which will open the Coast to flights from Asia and more Australian destinations, are underway with construction to commence in the second half of this year when final contracts are awarded.

LEADING INNOVATION

The $1.87 billion Sunshine Coast University Hospital is now accepting patients with more than 4,000 staff on site when fully commissioned. This facility will be a key driver for maintaining the health and wellbeing industry as a leading component of our economy.

Our 15 megawatt Sunshine Coast Council Solar Farm is on track to be operational by mid-2017. Once it is online, council will be offsetting 100% of its electricity consumption with energy from a renewable source – the only government in mainland Australia to be doing so.

Major residential developments such as Aura at Caloundra South and Palmview also provide new communities that will eventually house close to 70,000 people.

All of this is happening as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the naming of the Sunshine Coast in 2017.

We are celebrating our identity, engaging our community with a spectacular array of events, projects and activities and showcasing our history and future.

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