FUTURE CQ: We're not alone as other regional cities innovate
GLADSTONE'S population is set to stagnate leading into 2030 according to demographer Bernard Salt.
This is in stark contrast to a monumental population jump that occurred 2004-2017 when the Gladstone local government area population skyrocketed from 13,000 to 63,000.
Mr Salt, who is managing director of The Demographics Group, challenged Gladstone during an opinion piece in last Saturday's The Observer to ask: "Are we done yet?"
"A breakdown of the (Australian Bureau of Statistics) data shows that it is Gladstone that is expected to more or less 'stop growing' during the 2020s," Mr Salt said.
"... over the 13-year period to 2030 Gladstone is projected to add barely 1000 in total.
"The reason behind Gladstone's rate of growth grinding to a halt is of course the fact that there are no major projects on the drawing board of the scale that attracted so many workers and residents over the last decade or so."
So are we done yet? Perhaps if we repeat the mistakes of the past we are but those lessons have been learnt.
While a population growth forecast of less than 100 people per year is concerning, there's still time to turn that ship around.
Mr Salt's figures show Gladstone's population was 44,878 in 2017, slightly behind Port Macquarie (47,096), Shepparton (51,179) and Hervey Bay (53,726) at the same time.
What can Gladstone learn from the above towns that have similar populations but vastly different individual strengths?
Let's take a look.
Located 190km from Melbourne, Shepparton is known for its horticulture, dairy, manufacturing and health industries.
Shepparton's population is tipped to reach 78,047 by 2030 and Greater Shepparton City Council mayor Kim O'Keeffe said its Great Things Happen Here campaign was playing a major part in identifying areas of growth.
"Great Things Happen Here is about making the region as liveable as possible, connecting communities, small towns, improving infrastructure, rail, court house, advocating for a bypass and future infrastructure projects," Cr O'Keeffe said.
Cr O'Keeffe said people were attracted to Shepparton because of the lifestyle, friendly community, multiculturalism and affordable housing.
But like Gladstone, they've had challenges to overcome and have had to think outside the box when it comes to diversifying the economy.
"Greater Shepparton has always been recognised as the home of SPC and because of it being such a significant employer there was previously a significant reliance on SPC," Cr O'Keeffe said.
"Whilst SPC is a significant player within the municipality, our region has diversified by having significant other large-scale manufacturers such as Pental Soaps, Freedom Foods and MC Pipes.
"Also, local orchardists have moved to fresh variety of fruits and are less dependent on SPC Ardmona. These fresh fruit growers are now looking at exports and have to their credit grown significantly hiring large numbers of people.
"We are also attracting large-scale new agricultural operations that hire large numbers of people including a future medicinal cannabis farm and hydroponic tomatoes."
Closer to home at Hervey Bay, Fraser Coast Regional Council mayor George Seymour said his region offered "coast and country living at its best".
"People choose to live here because they have the services of a large coastal centre and nearby relaxed regional and rural communities," Cr Seymour said.
According to Queensland Government projections, the Fraser Coast's population is forecast to swell to 120,159 by 2031. Cr Seymour said Fraser Coast was now going through a period of positive growth and that the region was gaining a new sense of confidence.
"Being within three hours of Brisbane, Fraser Coast is an ideal drive holiday destination, while also attracting visitors from further afield," he said.
"Fraser Island and whale watching attract travellers from across the globe, particularly from July to October each year.
"Our residents report a high quality of life and have a high perception of our community.
"For example, data prepared by Tourism and Events Queensland highlights our inclusive and friendly demeanour. In its annual Social Indicators 2017 publication, responses show 47 per cent of people 'can't think of anywhere else (they) would rather live', well above the Queensland average of 37 per cent."
Cr Seymour said health care, social assistance and education were now the region's major employers, highlighting the shift towards a new economy.
This includes a specialist health precinct at Hervey Bay, which is attracting major university medical schools.
Cr Seymour said businesses were increasingly taking an interest in Fraser Coast on the back of the region's high liveability, large workforce, value-for-money commercial and industrial land.
"Council has a proactive approach to economic development and has a role in growing existing businesses as well as attracting new major firms such as Rheinmetall-Nioa (munitions factory) and Astro Aero (aviation manufacturer)," he said.
Port Macquarie has been identified as a regional city with a focus for employment and housing growth on the New South Wales North Coast.
Its population is forecast to grow by more than 1000 people per year to around 104,000 people by 2036 but will face new opportunities and challenges in the coming years.
Ways to diversify its economy include development linked to the Port Macquarie Base Hospital and education facilities, such as the new Charles Sturt University campus.
It has also identified opportunities to better connect with other regions and the rest of the world, taking advantage of a new highway, airport and communications infrastructure.
Its challenge is to plan for growth in consultation with the community in a way that enhances the character of the local area.
Now that we know what comparable cities to Gladstone are doing to drive their economical and population growth forward, what are we doing?
From a beef processing facility to a coal gasification project and solar farms, there are several projects proposed for the Gladstone Region.
Gladstone Region Mayor Matt Burnett said at the recent Future CQ forum the region's future population was dependent on big projects going ahead.
Cr Burnett disputed Mr Salt's population forecast figures, insisting the demographer wasn't seeing the documents coming into the council's office for proposed projects for the region.
Regional City Comparisions
Where: 190km to Melbourne, 122km to Bendigo
Economy: Horticulture, dairy, manufacturing, health
Attractions: Victoria Park Lake, Shepparton Motor Museum, wineries, two foreign war cemeteries, Goulburn River
Where: 285km to Brisbane, 281km to Gladstone
Economy: Tourism, manufacturing, innovation
Attractions: Whale watching, fishing, boating
Port Macquarie, NSW
Where: 542km to Brisbane, 384km to Sydney
Economy: Health, retail, construction, education and training, accommodation and food
Attractions: Koala Hospital, Billabong Zoo, river cruises, beaches, ironman.