The Sunshine Coast is a metropolitan area that spreads across 2,291 square kilometers of Australia’s coastline about 100 kilometers north of Brisbane. A sub-tropical paradise of beautiful beaches and scenic mountains, the Coast has experienced boom times and almost doubled its population since the 1980s from tourism and retirement relocation, which drove the growth of construction and retailing. But the ebbing of the commodities boom that fueled Australia’s economy has revealed the fragility of the local economy. Population growth has slowed to below the state average and demand for tourist accommodation has fallen year after year, creating an above-average unemployment rate that hits particularly hard on youth.
Infrastructure and Skills
Local government has responded by refocusing on the development of new industries including health and wellbeing, education and research, digital business, professional services, agribusiness and cleantech. Its strategy calls for development of advanced digital infrastructure and a skilled population and innovative business community able to harness it for growth.
The city has made significant strides already. In partnership with other Councils, the University of the Sunshine Coast and private-sector carriers, the city won Federal funding to develop a publicly-owned competitive network that reaches 75% of the urban area. Household penetration has topped 73%, slightly above the Australia average.
The university, meanwhile, has grown to 9,000 students and doubled the output of research into sustainability, health, interactive technologies and other fields. In 1999, the city assembled government and university funding to establish the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast (IC). Over the past 11 years, the IC has assisted more than 100 companies and helped raise Aus$28 million in investment in firms offering online accounting, messaging, cleantech, software, mobile apps and professional services. It has also been successful in retaining them; a survey indicated that, without the vibrant local digital ecosystem, 80% of these start-ups would have relocated to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.
New Digital City Center
Digital skills training and technology access are widely available, from the city library to the business training programs of the national Broadband Today Alliance and the state’s Creative Collective program for individuals and organizations. Those skills help citizens to use the eBusiness platform launched by Council, which offers a wide range of online services and directories. Its most ambitious effort is a plan to redevelop a former golf course into a new digital city center featuring ubiquitous fiber and Wi-Fi as well as smart transportation, lighting, signage, public safety, energy and waste management. Sunshine Coast expects its population to nearly double again over the next two decades, but that growth will be based on a diversified, digitally-powered economy ready for 21st Century success.
Smart21 2014 | 2015