Australia’s Gold Coast may be a popular spot for vacationers and increasingly business, but the Sunshine Coast is coming on strong.
Australia’s Gold Coast is a hotbed of tourism and increasingly a lifestyle option for those who think Brisbane is too hectic. Strong infrastructure, education options, culture and leisure have made the city of roughly 500,000 the go-to choice in Queensland for those seeking better work-life balance. But just 100 kilometres north of Brisbane is the Sunshine Coast, an amalgam of cities, villages and districts including Noose, Caloundra, Maroochydore and the Fraser Coast and Rainbow Beach that is primed to give both those favourites a run for their money.
The Sunshine Coast is Queensland’s third largest population centre and Australia’s fifth biggest council, and it has seen it population double to 300,000 in the last 20 years. That should double again in the next 20, making the groundwork second-term Mayor Mark Jamieson is laying specific to the future. Jamieson and his council (as well as the federal government) have committed approximately AU$2.5 billion to infrastructure, solar farms, airport expansion and urban development to make the Sunshine Coast the country’s greenest, smartest supercity in roughly a generation. “We are focused on achieving a balance between economy, environment and community. It’s about getting them all working together,” says Jamieson. “[We have] over 60 kilometres of beaches and open coastline, a spectacular rural hinterland and the Glass House Mountains (which have been 25 million years in the making), are just some of our outstanding geographical features. These provide fantastic tourism experiences and are highly attractive to visitors from international markets looking for a unique Australian experience and exposure to our important Indigenous heritage.”
And that’s just he beginning. As part of the comprehensive long-term plan for the Sunshine Coast, the formerly construction, agriculture and timber-based economy is shifting to a service economy, one that effortlessly marries lifestyle with development. “Our focus is becoming more demand-driven, with employment focused around seven high-value industries. We’ve been a key location for people who want to live in a beautiful location. There is no reason they should not be able to enjoy access to a wide range of employment opportunities.”
Jamieson and his development council have targeted key industries that will both drive and complement the area economy: Health, medical and wellbeing; education and research; aviation and aerospace; tourism and events; agribusiness; clean tech; and professional services. “Each one of these industries has a major catalytic project that will underpin their growth and advance our economic objectives,” says Jamieson.
Indeed, multiple projects have broken ground, including the new teaching hospital (opening next year), which is igniting the health sector and will create 7,000 jobs. A new 23-kilometre light rail link will connect forthcoming business and residential districts, and the airport is expanding to accept international flights and more cargo by 2020. Sunshine Coast is also actively cultivating a diverse residential mix — which includes students from Australia and around the world, retirees and millennials. “The Sunshine Coast University Health Centre, one of Australia’s youngest, is also one of the fasted growing. So some of the [plans] that were already in play gave us a foundation to build a strategy around,” explains Jamieson. Projects like the hospital provide post-education employment options for students and the mayor would like to see increased volunteerism from retirees who are in the area because of the lifestyle.
To stay ahead of the tech curve, Sunshine Coast is also bucking for its own communications cable. The difference in Internet speeds will be barely noticeable seconds, but “We are proposing to bring ashore, or have a protection zone declared, for a broadband subsea cable. This is for international communications,” argues Jamieson. “We are seeking to have a protection zone declared to encourage the private sector to bring ashore a broadband submarine cable connected to facilitate direct international data and communications connectivity. On the eastern seaboard of Australia, there are four international cables that come ashore at two locations in Sydney within a distance of 30 kilometres. The Australian eastern seaboard needs an alternative international broadband cable in a location away from Sydney for redundancy and national security reasons. This is a real symbol of our digital future and will help provide the underpinning infrastructure for Queensland’s participation in the digital economy.” Add that to the solar farms that will provide the Sunshine Coast’s planned 53-hectare smart CBD (developed by SunCentral) added to existing Maroochydore, with convention space, hotels and an entertainment precinct with 100% renewable energy by 2017. All of that energises and reinforces the brand. “It will give the Sunshine Coast a significant competitive edge,” notes Jamieson.
Sunshine Coast has already welcomed major institutional investors onboard, including Telstra, Lendlease, McDermott Aviation, Oaks Hotels and Resorts, Merlin Entertainment, Ramsay Health Care, Optus and Mantra Group. The area is popular with funds and other institutional investors, but the growth potential makes Sunshine Coast a smart choice for individual investors and small businesses as well. Maroochydore is in the midst of building 50,000 new homes, and the combination of low costs (compared to New South Wales or Victoria), government support, low taxes and a stellar location help that investment.
Home prices average AU$480,000 (HK$2.9 million), but “Median house prices and unit prices on the Sunshine Coast are marginally ahead of Brisbane and there are a few reasons for that,” finishes Jamieson. “Obviously there is a lot of very expensive real estate along the waterfront that will contribute to that, but there’s also incredible variety. Recently the first stages of Aura — which is Australia’s largest residential development project — have come to market where AU$192,000 buys you a 4,300-square foot house plot. So that’s good value in the Australian market.”