I wouldn’t be selling in Geelong just yet

There’s a history of heart disease among my ancestors and I tend towards high blood pressure, but no one’s pronounced me dead just yet.

I know someone with a condition that may require drastic surgery some time in the future, but no one’s pronounced him dead either.

I’m wondering why so many have declared Geelong a dead duck.

Major industries, notably Ford, Toyota and Alcoa, have announced shutdowns which affect Geelong. Toyota has said it will halt manufacturing in 2017 and Ford plans to shut down in 2016. The Alcoa shutdown is more immediate, expected to happen in August 2014.

None of this is good news for Geelong, but it’s not terminal either.

Newcastle was written off when BHP left town in the late 1990s with the loss of 2,000 jobs, but the city fought back strongly and quickly. Today Newcastle is a thriving city and, together with the Hunter region, runs a diverse economy which supports half a million people.

Some believe the BHP exit was the best thing to happen to Newcastle, because it forced the city to diversify and it has benefited from the process.

Another regional city to have the last rites performed prematurely is Wollongong. The city has been hit by a number of economic reversals, including job cuts by BlueScope Steel, which are estimated by the University of Wollongong to have cost the Illawarra 2,500 jobs, $208 million in household income and a loss of $740 million from the local economy.

But Wollongong continues to be a thriving city and its property markets, contrary to earlier predictions, are rising at the moment.

In 2011 when BlueScope announced its cutbacks, some of the more hysterical media coverage predicted property values would drop 20-30%. Nothing of the sort happened. I wrote in The Australian in 2011 that Wollongong would absorb the BlueScope Steel cutbacks and move on – and it’s done just that.

Indeed, the Illawarra region, encompassing the neighbouring Wollongong and Shellharbour municipalities, emerged in my research for the Price Predictor Index as the number one growth star for markets in regional New South Wales.

Cities can take significant blows and fight back, sometimes by reinventing themselves. The thing Geelong has in its favour is that the reinvention process has been going on for years.

Geelong’s economy and employment base these days is more about the education, medical and IT sectors than it is about manufacturing.

While the impending plant closures have made headlines, there have been several good news announcements for Geelong as well. In February alone, we’ve learnt that Geelong will host a major statewide tourism conference, that there are plans for a factory where cars are converted to LPG fuel, that the new suburb of Lara West has been approved to house about 10,000 residents, that the Shell refinery has been bought with Swiss oil company Vitol, that a new call centre for EnergyAustralia will be based in Geelong and that a high-rise building with student accommodation is planned by developers.

Geelong is, and will continue to be, a happening city.

A key factor is that the car plant closures are two to three years away. The city has time to respond ahead of the greatest impact. If Geelong community and business leaders sat around and did nothing in the interim, the impact would be considerable.

But they won’t. My visits to Geelong in recent years have shown me that this is a vibrant city with proactive leadership.

If you own property in Geelong, I wouldn’t be selling it just yet.

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au.

You can contact Terry via email or on Twitter.



Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au.

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