Central Queensland's sleeping economic giant unrealised
FOR decades Central Queensland has been associated with military training but two of the region's most respected business and economic experts say defence is the sleeping giant of the region's future.
Shoalwater Bay, 80kms north of Rockhampton, has been one of Australia's prime military training areas since 1965 when it was first used to train troops being deployed to Vietnam.
Now the 453,700ha site is preparing for a billion dollar expansion in a joint enterprise between the Australian and Singapore defence forces.
Resource economist, Professor John Rolfe referred to defence as "the sleeper” in terms of future economic potential at last month's Future CQ forum in Yeppoon.
He said the cattle industry which currently dominated the expansion area would need to be compensated to the tune of about $35 million but defence had the potential to generate much more than that.
Managing director of Cassidy Hospitality Group, Grant Cassidy told the Rockhampton Future CQ forum that even though the region had a long association with Shoalwater Bay, he believed we are only now getting started.
"Rockhampton is very lucky to have so many strings to our economic bow,” he said.
"There is some great growth coming and I'm excited about defence.
"We'll see a few soldiers around and trucks carting tanks through town, but I think we probably haven't realised how much opportunity there is with defence.”
Mr Cassidy sits on an advisory committee to Capricornia MP Michelle Landry and says he's been fortunate to have been involved in the space in recent times.
"It gave us the opportunity to to influence the Defence Minister at the time, Marise Payne, into lobbying very hard to get as much local content as possible out of the billion dollar spend in Shoalwater Bay.”
The master contract was awarded to Laing O'Rourke with 80 per cent local contract in their tender and Mr Cassidy said it will see hundreds of millions of dollars flow the region.
"That's good news, but it's the ongoing opportunities that will flow through the Central Queensland region, particularly Rockhampton, and that's got to be good news.
"It's the ongoing opportunities that are going to come from having one of the most technologically advanced defence training grounds in the world after this investment goes into Shoalwater Bay.
"It means there's going to be all sorts of new business opportunities we haven't even thought of yet.”
To capitalise on the opportunities that lie ahead, Mr Cassidy spoke of the huge advantage of having a "nimble, young-thinking university that can really look at where the future opportunities are”.
"They can adapt their courses, they can have that flexibility,” he said.
"I think this is going to be a really strong opportunity for us to significantly grow back into the strong region we should be.”