Business

Gladstone ‘convert’ set for a new challenge

FAREWELL: GILG chief executive Kurt Heidecker is moving on after seven years.
FAREWELL: GILG chief executive Kurt Heidecker is moving on after seven years. Tom Huntley

KURT Heidecker came to Gladstone in 2009 on a four-month contract to set up the Gladstone Industry Leadership Group. His job was to recruit a group CEO.

Seven years later, he is about to leave that role, and leave a region he has grown to love.

It hasn't always been that way. His first visit was about 30-odd years ago with his father; they stood at Auckland Point, looking out at the harbour.

"I wasn't impressed at all," he said.

When he was invited to set up the industry group he still had that impression in his mind, although it wasn't an issue because it was just for four months.

"I was on sabbatical from an IT company at the time, and was a good opportunity to fill in some time.

"But after being here for that time I realised, some way through the recruitment process that my impression had completely turned around and I decided to go for the job myself."

The impression of Gladstone felt by him so long ago is still one that Gladstone suffers from, he explains.

"It goes back for many years - probably 50 or so. In fact, the forerunner to Gladstone Area Promotions and Development Limited was an image committee.

"The fact is that industry is a major part of our being. Our challenge is for people within our community to agree that they live in a wonderful place which has a huge amount to offer.

"It needs to start with the cab driver, the blokes around the barbie, to say 'I love living in Gladstone'. Once we achieve that we can then pass the message on to the wider community outside of Gladstone.

"I can recall taking people from other parts of the country on industry tours and they have said 'I can see the sky!' They have been stunned at how clean our community is."

He said it is important that the people of Gladstone promote the great things about living in the region - the prosperity, quality of life, no traffic issues.

The past seven years have seen significant changes and a diversification of industrial sectors, he said.

"For many years our economy was based around aluminium. The extension into the energy industry has been a good thing. It means that we don't have all our eggs in one basket so that when one commodity is struggling another will be doing OK.

"Every year I've been here the leaders of our major industries have had to cope with significant challenges - the Australian dollar, emissions, renewable energy target, skills shortages, wage pressures; and it's a credit to the leaders that they have been able to continue to operate."

He has seen his role as a bridge between industry and community.

"When I arrived here it was a very emotional situation - there was a common outrage in the community about various issues such as air quality and industrial operations in general. There was a huge amount of suspicion. There still is and the issues are still there to some extent, but at least there's a better understanding. However, it's not one of those issues where you can just tick a box. It's an ongoing conversation that has to be had."

Following a "boom" four years ago where the city has seen the largest surge in construction ever, he now describes the present climate as "boom normal; back to doing what we have been doing for many years - processing minerals and adding value to them".

"We are now back to the point where we have thousands of people working in several world-class industries."

He says there will be no significant projects at least over the next five years.

"It's quite likely that the next cycle will come from a totally unexpected sector.

"If you had said to someone that there was an industry to be had from coal seam gas, which was a nuisance to the coal industry, you would have been laughed at. Look what's just happened here - a completely new massive industry!"

So where to from now for Kurt?

"My partner Julie-Ann has found it hard to find satisfying work in Gladstone. She came here because of my job. Now it's time for her to have her turn. She has found a job she loves on the Gold Coast and I will follow her and see what happens."

Mr Heidecker will be replaced by Patrick Hastings, who knows Gladstone well. He is currently employed in the LNG industry in Western Australia, and was formerly working for QGC in Gladstone.

Topics:  gladstone industry leadership group



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