In a much-changed economic landscape, relocating to Wollongong in search of a better work-life balance makes perfect business sense.
Reproduced from Company Director magazine, May 2021 edition.
As Australia enters a post-pandemic phase, many companies are reassessing their business models and accommodation needs. One of the few upsides has been the fresh approach to work the pandemic ushered in. Although initially borne out of necessity, the majority of companies now embrace flexible work practices and a more meaningful work-life balance.
Wollongong is already home to a thriving business community that includes Mercer, KPMG, ATO, NEC, IMB Bank, Cardno, SES, Stellar, GHD and Peoplecare. However, post-pandemic, Wollongong is seeing an uplift in companies looking to establish a presence in the CBD — whether opening their doors for the first time, creating a satellite office or back-of-house operations, or acquiring flexible office space for remote working teams.
There has been an explosion in new office developments in the Wollongong CBD, with an additional 28,000sqm of A-grade office space under construction or just completed and a further 25,000sqm approved — representing a 70 per cent uplift.
Wollongong has also witnessed an influx of professionals seeking a better lifestyle removed from the daily grind of a capital city. In fact, Wollongong’s thriving tech sector with its plethora of startups has been dubbed “Siligong Valley”.
Wollongong’s ongoing investment pipeline means it continues to feature in the Rider Levett Bucknall Crane Index, recording 12 cranes in Q1, 2021 — second only to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast for cranes among non-capital cities across Australia, and more than Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart and Newcastle.
While mining and manufacturing remains important to Wollongong, the local economy has diversified significantly. There is also a significant amount of investment going on in the clean energy space.
The NSW government recently flagged Wollongong as one of two hydrogen hubs across the state. More than $2.5 billion in new investment opportunities spans large-scale green hydrogen production, power generation, a gas pipeline, and import/export terminal infrastructure across the region — including Andrew Forrest’s Squadron Energy building a $1 billion dual-fuel gas/hydrogen power station.
Large talent pool
The University of Wollongong is one of the city’s largest employers, in turn providing the city with a steady stream of talented graduates.
“Pre-COVID, Wollongong had a professional cohort of 23,000 people commuting to Sydney on a daily basis,” says Mark Grimson, Wollongong City Council Economic Development Manager.
“We are confident that a company in virtually any industry looking to set up an office in Wollongong will attract the right talent.”
Wollongong’s high-calibre talent pool and supportive business community has helped companies such as health insurer Peoplecare to thrive. “Our team has done extraordinary things while balancing life and work in ways that was never previously possible,” says Peoplecare CEO Dr Melinda Williams GAICD. “People realise they can live in a beautiful part of the world while undertaking meaningful work without a tiresome commute.”
Williams lives within an eight-minute drive to both her office and the beach — her days of setting off for work at 4am behind her.
Research by Fifth Quadrant found that lower staff turnover rates, higher workforce productivity and higher staff satisfaction, were typical of businesses located in Wollongong compared with similar businesses located in other CBD locations. This is attributed at least in part to lifestyle benefits.
Peoplecare’s 217 employees give their employer a satisfaction rate of 88 per cent. Its call centre has an annual turnover rate of just 12 per cent compared with the national average of 35 per cent.
“Generally speaking, people leave Peoplecare for career development reasons, such as completing further education,” says Williams. “Some of the comments in a recent staff survey spoke of how our team members feel proud to work for Peoplecare and to belong to the broader community.”
Williams appreciates being part of Wollongong’s supportive business community, especially while navigating the challenge of doing business during a pandemic.
“The support from the business community has been phenomenal,” she says. “I was invited to participate in a CEO network with other local employers and imagined some kind of nibblies-and-drinks networking event. But it involves a genuine discussion of the issues business leaders are facing. When times became very challenging, it was so beneficial to be part of a community.”
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