It can be very stressful to be responsible for outcomes over which you have very little control. This is the predicament faced by economic development agencies such as Townsville Enterprise and Brisbane Marketing. This predicament was highlighted by the sacking earlier this year of Townsville Enterprise CEO David Kippin, who appears to have been held responsible for Townsville’s relatively poor economic performance in recent years (see this Townsville Bulletin story). But Townsville’s performance hasn’t been that different from other Queensland regional centres that also weren’t major beneficiaries of the resources boom. It seems silly to blame and sack Mr Kippin, particularly given he appears well-regarded in the Townsville business community.
Townsville Enterprise’s Chairman Kevin Gill has committed the organisation to attracting more investment dollars for the Townsville region. Clearly the attraction of Government investment, such as in the proposed Super Stadium, is an important part of this strategy. I’ve often wondered, however, whether agencies such as Townsville Enterprise and Brisbane Marketing are actually focussing on the wrong things. You can spend a lot of time and money chasing after investment dollars that, from a whole economy perspective, aren’t that significant and don’t provide the basis for long-term, sustainable growth. Indeed, one challenge that Townsville now has is that its growth since the War has been dependent, to a large extent, on Government, with Lavarack Barracks, James Cook University and State and Commonwealth agencies all major sources of growth. Townsville doesn’t appear to have developed any important competitive advantages in private sector industries that can provide sustainable growth opportunities into the future.
Rather than waste a lot of time and money chasing investment dollars that may deliver little long-term economic benefit to their regions, bodies such as Townsville Enterprise and Brisbane Marketing should instead focus on lobbying to improve policy settings. These bodies should lobby to remove restrictions on development that are restraining economic growth and also for more efficient local government services (so that people might be attracted by a lower cost of living that other regions). By helping to improve the fundamentals, I expect these agencies would deliver greater value than they do currently.
Regarding how local government policies can restrict economic development, see Bradley Rogers’s post: