How big business can support regional Australia – and why they should

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

It’s important for all Australians to get behind our regions to keep our wider economy strong and big businesses have the potential to play a stronger role in these communities. I was heartened to read the recent announcement of a QANTAS Pilot Academy to be opened in Toowoomba, in Queensland, and it got me thinking about how more corporates can create training opportunities in our regions – and why they should.

I've talked before about the importance of bringing training opportunities to regional Australia. Among a host of benefits, it plays a role in reversing population decline and increases employment opportunities, and it also benefits businesses and the wider economy alike. 

Regional Australia is an important part of the broader Australian economy and it's important that we foster economic growth in these areas. Often, when we talk numbers in regional Australia, there is a focus on the negative; higher unemployment, fewer jobs, but there are a number of positive statistics we should focus more on. Almost 8 million people live outside capital cities, 57 per cent of our exports come from agriculture, forestry and fishing and mining, industries that are predominately located in our regions, and 45 cents in every tourist dollar is spent outside our cities.  

It can lead to a wealth of community benefits 

Bringing corporate facilities to regional Australia is about more than just training opportunities; there is a massive flow on effect for local communities.  Thinking about the QANTAS example, firstly, the centre needs to be built, bringing construction opportunities to locals. Then, once constructed it will need to be staffed and maintained, creating a range of administrative, maintenance, and hospitality jobs.

The centre will no doubt attract the next generation of pilots from all over the country, and while they may only be temporary residents, they are spending money at local businesses and creating more demand for hospitality, retail and even health services in the region.  

Building a centre like this can also encourage more businesses to move to the same region, increasing the demand for new infrastructure to support the growing population, providing another source of job opportunity.

Often, when a business chooses a regional area as a hub for training or services, they have a vested interest in supporting the community. Whether by offering facilities for use to community groups, funding services, or holding community events, it's often in their best interests to support local initiatives, and the community can stand to benefit. 

The business can reap rewards too 

Regional Australia has much to offer businesses, from the availability of land to a ready and willing workforce, many organisations can benefit from choosing a regional base. 

Our cities are crowded and finding space for large-scale activities, like the flight training school, is near-on impossible.  Even when the land is available on city fringes, it's expensive. In regional Australia we have wide open space available at a fraction of the cost.

With a 'jobs boom' underway, finding workers in metropolitan areas is more competitive than ever. In many regions, the number of workers outstrips the number of jobs, offering organisations access to a ready and willing workforce. 

It’s also a great way for businesses to show their commitment to supporting all Australians. With corporate social responsibility high on the agenda, companies like QANTAS, who take the initiative to support regional Australia can turn it into a great public relations opportunity too. 

It's a win for the wider economy  

Long-term unemployment in Australia costs the public purse in many ways – from lost productivity and the cost of welfare, to increased burdens on the public health, housing and corrections and justice systems. In fact, it was estimated to cost $13.6 billion in 2017 alone.  

Long-term unemployment is typically more prevalent in our regions than our cities for one key reason– lack of job and training opportunities. 

Corporate facilities bring a host of direct and indirect jobs; as the local population grows, the demand for services grows too, bringing opportunities in a wide range of industries.

Governments have a role 

Last month, I discussed the importance of government funding for training opportunities to support skills demand in regional areas, and this investment in skill-building is equally important when it comes to attracting businesses to our regions. 

And while it can feel a little bit chicken and egg – there is no demand for skills without job opportunities, but it can be hard to attract job opportunities to an area without the skills to fill them - it's incumbent upon our policy-makers to have the foresight to invest in our regions. 

While government incentives to business can be seen as a 'hand-out' to corporates, they can play a huge role in attracting business to regional areas and reducing the economic and social burden of long-term unemployment.  In my mind, the financial and social return on investment is important in the long-term too. 

In my opinion, encouraging more businesses to invest in regional areas is an important part of the puzzle to reverse population decline, address the economic and social issues of unemployment, and strengthen local economies. Realising the economic opportunities of strong regional economies is something everyone should be invested in; it has the potential to be a win for us all.