Southern Oil Refinery managing director Tim Rose on the future site of the company's recycling facility.
Southern Oil Refinery managing director Tim Rose on the future site of the company's recycling facility. David Sparkes

Region needs diversity

ONCE upon a time, Gladstone was an abattoir town. Those days are long gone, with coal and alumina keeping the town's economy ticking over.

Plenty of new industrial activity has arrived, or is on the way, but even so, talk of the need to build even more diversity continues.

Economist John Rolfe, from CQ University, said an examination of the region's industrial diversity showed good and bad.

"Gladstone is much more diversified than most of the resource towns in the state, particularly the mining towns," Prof Rolfe said.

"But it does not have the depth across sectors that other regional cities have.

"For example, Townsville has a very diversified economy with the minerals-processing sector only accounting for a section of the regional economy.

"The positive aspect to the Gladstone economy is that the new growth in the gas and energy sectors is helping to further diversify the local economy, and many of the other projects being proposed for the region will add to that diversity.

"Economies that are dependent on commodities and primary industries tend to go through large fluctuations over time as commodity prices go through cyclical patterns. These are hard to avoid, but often do not coincide.

"This means that the best way to temper these cyclical effects is to develop a broader base in the economy.

"This is effectively happening at the moment in the Queensland economy, with the resources sector experiencing strong growth while other export sectors such as agriculture and tourism are much quieter.

"The Gladstone economy is still largely reliant on transport (especially coal), heavy industry and the energy sectors, so there is always a risk that there may be downturns affecting these at the one time.

"But the economy is much better diversified than it was a few years back, and growth prospects are very strong, so those risks are diminishing."

Ken King, CEO of the Gladstone Industry and Economic Development Board, agreed there was some way to go in building diversity in Gladstone's industries.

"Gladstone's diversity is currently primarily limited to the aluminium and coal industries, some chemicals and LNG in due course," Dr King said.

"However the long-term planning horizon is for diverse operations (like) nickel, steel, chemicals (and) fuel.

"After some 45 years (of activity), Gladstone's major industry is growing, as are small to medium enterprises servicing a broader area from Bundaberg to Mackay and beyond.

"However it will be the next 45 years of growth and development that will nail industrial diversity."



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