EDITORIAL: Seeking a diverse economy

THE dominance of large employers in Newcastle and the broader Hunter is a weak link in an otherwise largely robust view on how the region is performing at a national level.

The new national InSight index, compiled by independent Canberra think tank Regional Australian Institute to track regional competitiveness, also reveals Singleton and Maitland continue to outclass their city counterparts on the back of mining services. Buoyed by strong building approvals and wage and labour costs, Maitland and Singleton pull rank in the economic fundamentals category, scoring 55 and 51 respectively, compared with Newcastle’s 190 ranking among 560 local government authorities.

Institute general manager of research and policy, Maitland-raised Jack Archer, said on the whole the InSight index – which considers 59 indicators including infrastructure, natural assets and small business incomes – showed the Hunter was performing strongly.

But he said a lack of business sophistication – judged via factors including economic diversification and business type – was disadvantaging Newcastle.

“This suggests the city is still reliant on large employers, including mining companies, making them more vulnerable to sudden change,” he said.

“We all know the story of BHP in Newcastle. What you really want is some large employers and a whole lot of smaller businesses; it’s all about building a more diverse business community to offset that risk.”

Mr Archer said the most surprising finding was how well regional cities like Newcastle and Maitland were performing compared with major cities in terms of human capital, innovation and infrastructure.

“We get too hung up on size and the idea that unless you are Sydney and have 5 million people you can’t be competitive,” he said.

“There is overseas evidence that challenges that and this data reinforces the role that different parts of the country can play in growth.”

A common trend across the region was a lacklustre embrace of technology, with Mr Archer underlining the need for businesses to play “catch-up” with the National Broadband Network rollout.

Institute chief executive Su McCluskey said the new InSight data had been developed to bridge the gap between knowledge, debate and decision-making for the future of regional Australia.

“We can now shift away from making decisions about regional Australia in a vacuum, to developing properly informed, localised approaches to development.”

For information on the index, go to http://insight.regionalaustralia杭州夜生活.au.

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