Booming Toowoomba

Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise

Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise (TSBE) is a member based organisation for business and economic development in the Toowoomba and Surat Basin region. The Toowoomba Regional Council area in particular is a diverse area, with some unbelievable opportunities that are projected to last for at least the next 50 years. There are approximately 160,000 people residing in the area, and right now the region is in a strong period of growth with fantastic opportunities for businesses.

The organisation was first created in January 2012 to facilitate economic development and investment attraction for Toowoomba, and soon after merged with a similar organisation called the Surat Basin Corporation. TSBE was created by the local business community and Toowoomba Regional Council joining together to ensure there is one clear path for investors and businesses interested in investing in the region.

The clear benefit of residing in the region is its diverse economy; there is not just one sector for the town to rely on, so it does not go through the same highs and lows which plague other regions. It is also a beautiful city. The planners who developed Toowoomba designed the town with a great deal of foresight, evident in the area’s expansive parks, wide, tree-lined streets, ease of access to facilities, and quality of life.

There are approximately two hundred and fifty founding members of the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise. Business owners, of course, are keen to see Toowoomba develop and reach its potential, and comprise much of the organisation’s membership. At present, there are 81 major projects proposed in the area, at a value of 180 billion dollars. According to CEO, Shane Charles, “Our members are keen to understand how they might be able to get a piece of the pie, and it is our job to show them that.”

There are great advantages for businesses considering moving to the TSBE region and phenomenal opportunities with the Surat Basin industry precinct. Three of the four major projects have already approved, and the last will be finished in 12 months. The largest coal mine in the southern hemisphere is about to be approved, which will lead to the construction of a major railway and several other coal mines throughout the area.

Shane Charles explains, “For companies interested in civil construction, or in the service related industry, that provides significant opportunities for them. Combined with that, we just announced a major international airport in Toowoomba that will be capable of landing a380s and jet aircrafts.” As a result of that, a number of aircraft companies have been in touch in relation to manufacturing, repairs, maintenance, transport logistics and overhaul businesses, wanting to set up in the region. One million square meters of land will be available in stage 1 of development, making TSBE the biggest industrial development ever to take place in Queensland. The airport is expected to be operational by the end of 2013.

Shane estimates that Toowomba has missed out on 60 billion dollars worth of infrastructure funding in comparison to towns of a similar size and larger over the past 20 years. A great deal of infrastructure is still needed in the area, encompassing hotels, convention centres and even a fast passenger aisle. The Queensland Investment Corporation has lodged a development application for a major retail centre in town, but one thing that is already built is the Empire Theatres, arguably the best regional theatre in Australia.

The opposition federal government has indicated that it will spend 700 million dollars on an arranged bypass upgrade, which is a major infrastructure blockage for the region. Once it is completed, Toowoomba will be a transport hub and inland port for Queensland. At that stage there will be railroad and airport facilities available. Shane says, “Traditionally we’ve ridden on the backs of agriculture, and we have some of the best soils in the world and some of the best agricultural companies in the world, and there’s a push in QLD to double food production by 2040.” Toowoomba is ideally placed to take advantage of that due to its climate and natural environment.

The Toowoomba Regional Council contributes 450,000 dollars a year to boost the effectiveness of the organisation, and the University of Southern Queensland also plays a significant role. According to Shane, “What the Councillors say is TSBE is crucial because ‘business knows business better than government knows business.’ So for that, the council should be congratulated.”

TSBE is a go-to organisation that links business with opportunity to achieve sustainable growth and diversity for the region. Strategic networking is used to facilitate and coordinate meetings between individuals and businesses. There are networking meetings at the CEO level and also at the industry sector level. What has been identified is that businesses in town do not necessarily have a strong comprehension of how to take advantage of opportunities; hence it is the goal of TSBE to give them information on what opportunities are available and also to show them how to get involved, which has been a particularly popular membership attractor.

The objective for Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise is to achieve sustainable communities. The regional communities west of Toowoomba have suffered, and in Australia, after the crippling interest rates in the 1980s and the worst drought on record in the 1990s, the dollar has now risen, affecting export sales. The agriculture sector has faced significant challenges, but it is has proven resilient, adapting and finding new markets and becoming more productive.

Now that the energy and resource sector is strong throughout the region, sustaining business is the next step to strengthening the community. This is done in part by working with energy companies and the government to make sure that companies are spending their money in the region. Employing locals to do the work rather than seeking labour from offshore ensures that money recirculates locally, where it can have a direct positive impact.

At the moment, TSBE and Toowoomba Regional Council are in collaboration with the University of Southern Queensland to market Toowoomba as the Education Capital of Australia. Shane Charles believes that Toowoomba is uniquely placed when considering quality of education – there is the major and significant University, and there are also a number of exceptional private and public schools right through the region. The University of a Third Age also began in Toowoomba, aimed at a more senior population.

Certainly, there are many challenges to be faced when a community grows quickly. In the Towoomba and Surat Basin region, getting enough labour across the region has been particularly challenging. It is difficult to get accurate data since the growth has been so rapid; for example, the regional communities Darby and West have already hit their 2020 population projections. The growth is impressive, but brings with it challenges with housing and staffing. Residents are paid good money at the mines, but to keep a town running there also must be employed childcare workers, chefs and all the other essential services that make up a community.

Being involved with so much positive development, of course, can be inspiring. Shane is clearly excited about the region’s prospects, saying, “The region is going to be the economic powerhouse of Queensland, and for some time with the amount of resources and possibilities here. It’s intoxicating – it’s an exciting time to be in town.” TSBE has seen success very quickly, which proves how large the need was for an organisation like this in the market. It has been spoken of for many years, and the councils provide significant funding because it is well known that there are significant growth opportunities in the area that no one had yet been coordinating. People have been craving this service.

The energy and the resources are not going to disappear overnight; there is a projected lifespan of 30 to 50 years. All of the investment property magazines throughout Australia are calling Toowoomba in particular a property hot spot. It is not just TSBE spreading the word; the region is internationally and nationally acknowledged as a real growth opportunity.

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August 19, 2018, 7:50 AM AEST