Wonthaggi ponders life beyond desal
BASS Coast businesses may suffer when the number of desalination plant workers begins to rapidly decrease from over 3000 to as low as 250 in October this year.
An information forum regarding Wonthaggi’s future, held at Wonthaggi Workmen’s Club last Tuesday night, was a great success.
At least 190 business-people and residents attended to learn what is planned for the region once the desal plant is built.
Some people also believed the number of tourists visiting Bass Coast had decreased, but council’s economic development manager Peter Francis, said tourist numbers had increased by seven per cent in the last year.
“There has been no indication numbers have dropped off,” he said.
“The building of a new information centre, which will encourage people to visit the desalination site, will hopefully improve tourism in the area even further.”
It was revealed at the forum however, that 200 construction workers would remain on site for two years after the plant is finished in mid 2012.
Bass Coast Shire Council CEO Allan Bawden was surprised to hear construction workers would remain, in addition to the 50 or so who would be employed on an ongoing basis.
Mr Bawden said news of the 200 came from Karen Lee, representing plant construction company Thiess Degremont, at last week’s forum on the future of Wonthaggi.
“That’s an economic bonus,” he said.
Mr Bawden said the current desalination plant workforce was around the same size as that in the rest of Wonthaggi.
“That gives you an idea of the scale,” he said.
He said the night focused on the present economic boom in Wonthaggi, while council made the point the town had been growing before the desal project began.
“That has been consistent over the past 10 years because of seachange. And that strong, underlying growth will continue,” Mr Bawden said.
One indication of that has been the investment in new housing in the town. There has, said Mr Bawden, been “a lot” of that.
The fact that “big national brands” such as Bunnings are setting up in Wonthaggi are indications of the certainty.
Council land use planning has reinforced the emergence of Wonthaggi as a regional service centre.
“Commercial and industrial growth is favoured for Wonthaggi. Coastal villages will grow, but retain their village feel,” he said.
The commercial and industrial land is on either side of Inverloch Road.
While the council has no statistics on the number of desalination construction workers who might want to find other jobs and remain in Wonthaggi, Mr Bawden thinks some of them will.
He bases that on the council’s own experience as an employer.
“People come here, bring their families and want to stay. One of the reasons we wanted to encourage (desalination) workers to live here and bring their families was that they’d fall in love with the place and stay on,” he said.
Bass Coast mayor Cr Veronica Dowman described the forum as “very productive”.
She said the forum showed an over-riding goodwill to look at the way Wonthaggi is expanding and progressing and how opportunities for growth can be improved.
One of the strategies discussed was to increase the town – and the shire’s percentage of “global knowledge” workers.
The lack of global knowledge workers in Bass Coast Shire was identified in a report commissioned by the council. It was prepared by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research and looks to the next 20 years.
The report identifies such workers that would help elevate the shire’s standing, including importers and exporters, information technology managers, sales and marketing managers, medical scientists, technical sales representatives and computing professionals.
To do this, said the mayor, the area needs to provide the education, arts and cultural facilities that young families want. Hence the Bass Coast Education Precinct slated for McKenzie Street, Wonthaggi and a cultural precinct opposite the shire offices in McBride Avenue, Wonthaggi.
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