Economic development and employment in Australia’s Cobb & Co towns

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Local economies in Victorian and New South Wales goldfields regions remain strong, but could improve in tough economic times through workforce development.

Lets look at two iconic Victorian Cobb and Co towns, which operated the gold escort, passenger and mail service – Castlemaine and Bendigo.

Castlemaine: World’s richest alluvial gold field

With a population of approximately 8000 and an economy that’s better than the rest of regional Victoria, Castlemaine was the richest alluvial gold field in world history.

In 2014, Castlemaine reported a Gross Regional Product (GRP) of $0.67billion, with 1,580 local businesses equating to 7,243 jobs.  Castlemaine’s largest industries include manufacturing, retail trade, health care and social assistance, and accommodation and food services.  The biggest employer is KR Castlemaine, producing smallgoods with over 900 employees. Cultural and heritage tourism is a large industry, with the historic art gallery being a major drawcard.

In 2012, a Castlemaine factory halved its workforce and announced more than 30 redundancies – which the Managing Director said was “a product of the economic times.”

But its not all doom and gloom.

The local council – Mount Alexander Shire – is committed to a more active workforce in the name of better workplace health and productivity.  Council is supporting the initiative through its involvement in Healthy Together Victoria’s Achievement Program, which supports workforces and schools to create healthy environments for working, learning and living.

Bendigo: A major business and industry centre

Bendigo has been a major business and industry centre since the gold rush in the 1850s.  The diversity of Bendigo’s business is vast with a strong manufacturing sector, growth in retail to cater for the expanding population, business, finance and education.

Whilst manufacturing is Bendigo’s largest industry by economic output, there has been substantial growth in all business sectors.  Bendigo’s business and manufacturing industry is comprised of multi-national, national and SMEs.  For example, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is one of Bendigo’s largest businesses and has grown to become a major player in Australia’s finance industry.

Headquartered in Bendigo, the bank employs over 3,000 staff and serves over 1 million customers.  Gold mining, defence equipment, engineering and food manufacturing are other industries, which have flourished in Bendigo.

With a $5.479 GRP and 37,659 jobs, Bendigo continues to be progressive – well after the mining boom.  The Central Goldfields Workforce Development Strategy is one example of the region’s commitment to job growth.

Two critical youth development and employment programs – Career Horizons and Passions and Pathways – will also be developed thanks to a $450,000 funding injection from the Andrews Labour Government.  The programs have proved highly effective in linking Bendigo primary, secondary and tertiary students to work experience opportunities offered by local businesses and industry.

It’s not just Victoria’s Cobb and Co. towns that are investing in their regions.

Bathurst: A region contributing to the nation’s economy

With a population of 41,051, Bathurst has a GRP of $1.81 billion.  It’s largest employment industries are manufacturing (22%), construction (10.5%), and education and training (6.6%).  The mining industry pumps around $37 million worth of wages into the Bathurst region economy each year.

NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said the report revealed the importance of mining to economies across the Central West and NSW.

“The survey also highlights that despite tough times, mining is delivering strong economic benefits to the Bathurst economy.”

“While spending with local businesses is down, our contribution to Bathurst remains strong, with more mining job opportunities available over the last 12 months.”

A blueprint for the future direction of the Bathurst Region is now in place after Councillors voted unanimously to adopt the Bathurst 2036 Community Strategic Plan.  The finished Community Strategic Plan identifies a vision and discusses strategies for managing, and supporting the growth of the Bathurst Region over the next 25 years.

Orange: Lower unemployment rates than greater NSW

Orange is a modern city that has grown from its rich mining past, with a population of 40,869 people.  With its surrounding towns and villages, Orange supports a population of well over 100,000 through its industrial, commercial and service resources.

In 2013, the unemployment rate was considerably lower in Orange (3.9%) than it was in the rest of NSW (5.7%).  The following sectors employ locals in Orange:

  • Education and training
  • Public administration and safety
  • Mining
  • Rental, hiring and real estate services
  • Professional, scientific and technical services
  • Retail trade

The economic diversity in comparison with Australia and NSW has increased marginally since 2006, primarily as a result of expansion of employment in health care and social assistance.

The Orange Development Plan, for example, aims to grow an innovative, diverse and balanced economy.  The strategies to achieve this vision include capitalising on the character of Orange to enhance tourism, supporting the development of evens and festivals, encouraging local businesses and supporting emerging industries, and promoting straining and skill development for a sustainable labour market.

Gold regions add economic and employment benefits, with manufacturing and tourism key players.  However, these areas do require workforce development strategies to help them remain economically prosperous.

If you would like to know more about workforce development strategies for your region or organisation, please contact Wendy Perry via wendy@wb.switchstartscale.com.au.

September 2015

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