With a supportive, innovative business community, a massive commuter and university graduate talent pool, there’s a strong case for basing business in Wollongong
Reproduced from afr.com, May 31, 2021.
By Nina Hendy
Growing a cloud-based software company and managing a global workforce is simpler when the commute to the office is under 10 minutes.
That’s according to the co-founder of tech company Accelo, Christine Higgins, who is one of a growing number of office dwellers calling Wollongong home.
From this coastal city, she has led the cloud-based software company achieve double-digit growth through the pandemic. She also has an enviable lifestyle she simply couldn’t get in nearby Sydney.
“When it comes to quality of life, quality of talent and a global, multicultural and diverse perspective, Wollongong is hard to beat,” she says.
She’s grown her workforce to nearly 100 people, admitting that the University of Wollongong has proven to be the ideal hunting ground for top talent.
“We always look for people who like to learn, who enjoy problem solving and think about things deeply to fully understand the issue. We found so many of our development team, our designers and our quality assurance team right here in Wollongong,” she says.
She’s also found a corporate tribe that lifts her up in Wollongong. Accelo is part of a bustling tech and business fraternity, each building their own global empires with smart people and smart practices.
Like the General Manager – Business Transformation, Managed Services at NEC Australia, Martin Braithwaite, whose national role within the ICT company – which has a 1300-strong workforce in Australia – is based in Wollongong.
In the mornings, he can be spotted taking a paddle in his sea kayak in Wollongong harbour and along the coast before arriving at the office early, “relaxed and focused”.
There’s scale-ups growing their businesses here too, rubbing shoulders alongside the established brands during social gatherings hosted by tech types, digital marketers and entrepreneurs dedicated to growing the tech industry in Wollongong.
Some companies have been part of the transformative growth experienced in Wollongong during the past few years, which has ramped up post-Covid as city slickers look beyond the bright lights of major cities in search of a better way of life.
Yearning for a better life
Economic development manager at Wollongong City Council, Mark Grimson, is fielding plenty of enquiries from hopeful companies wanting to move to the city for a better way of life.
He’s confident he can accommodate them, with a 70 per cent uplift in A-grade office accommodation in the city, comprising of 28,000 squares already built or under construction, and an additional 25,000 square metres in the approved development pipeline of the CBD.
Talent isn’t hard to come by either, with 23,000 people commuting to Sydney each day for work pre-Covid, which is an extensive talent pool of locals no doubt keen to find work closer to home, Grimson points out.
“Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for businesses to re-examine their business models and accommodation needs, with many people rating lifestyle factors far more important to them than ever before,” he says.
Recent analysis found that Wollongong is 33 per cent more cost effective for service industries such as tech, accounting and finance, administration services and call centres when compared to Sydney, Melbourne or Parramatta CBD.
“It’s considerably less expensive here, with lower salary costs, significantly lower staff turnover and lower real estate costs.”
A key reason is Wollongong’s lower staff turnover rate of only 8 per cent, which is less than half the national average (19 per cent), translating to lower operating costs, higher retention of corporate knowledge and productivity gains due to enhanced work-life balance, Grimson says.
Real estate agent Ben Mostyn has also been fielding strong enquiries from businesses looking to Wollongong for the long term.
Large tech companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs seeking satellite space for occasional days in the office want to settle in Wollongong, the partner at Knight Frank Illawarra says.
In fact, as the pandemic eases and life returns to a post-Covid normal, the work from home trend is being replaced by a concerted push to work close to home, he says.
“This removes the need for a compromise between career and home, and allows firms to explore and develop their new normal,” he says.
“The overall sentiment in Wollongong is that we have been relatively unscathed from Covid-19 and there’s a real feeling that the city is progressing at an exciting rate,” Mostyn says.
Learn more about Wollongong’s transforming office market, with profiles of new commercial developments and the city’s business benefits. Download the Wollongong Office Market Prospectus.