Cairns still struggling, but the future looks brighter

While the broader Queensland economy has strengthened in the wake of the financial crisis, Cairns is still struggling, with an unemployment rate of over 10% compared with the Queensland average rate of around 5.5%.  Nonetheless, Cairns businesses are excited about opportunities in PNG, as reported by the Cairns Post (Blueprint for Cairns’ business future):

THE push for a slice of Papua New Guinea mining action is intensifying with Cairns ready to grab millions of dollars of business opportunities.

A trade mission of Cairns business representatives will leave for PNG in November, armed with a document released by Advance Cairns yesterday – the Cairns Prospectus – that will serve as a blueprint for securing opportunities in the country.

The opportunities mentioned in the Cairns Post article relate to opportunities for tradespeople rather than opportunities for businesses more broadly:

Advance Cairns chief executive Ross Contarino yesterday urged Cairns businesses to “grab the opportunities with both hands”, saying various “jigsaws” were now coming together to help our region diversify with new opportunities.

“The opportunities cannot be under-estimated,” Mr Contarino said.

“They will need everything from welders to truck drivers, occupational health and safety people.

“The projects are so huge.”

PNG is urgently in need of welders in particular, with only about 40 tradespeople with the required skills available across PNG for Exxon-Mobil’s $16.6 billion liquefied natural gas project, when they need at least 400.

Cairns could certainly serve as a ready source of skilled labour for projects in PNG, but it’s unclear whether this will help Advance Cairns meet its objective of diversifying Cairns’s economy. The skilled workers may remit money back home to Cairns, boosting consumption expenditure by their families (or themselves when they return for some R&R), but this won’t necessarily support the push to turn Cairns into an engineering and manufacturing hub, which is an objective outlined in the Cairns Prospectus.

Of course the PNG projects may provide opportunities for fabricated metal manufacturers and consulting engineers based in Cairns, so the economic boost to Cairns may be larger than appears possible at first glance.  Let’s hope so, because an unemployment rate at 10% isn’t good for community morale and wellbeing.

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