Liveability is the gateway drug to an almighty tourism high. If Geelong wants a visitor economy hit from a city funding deal, a fast rail link should be top of the ticket.

Federal MP Sarah Henderson recently convened a leaders’ meeting, calling for modern fast rail to Melbourne to be an urgent component of a Commonwealth ‘city funding deal.’ After that meeting, G21 issued a statement announcing the need for ‘realistic’ projects to stimulate the region’s visitor economy. Aside from talk re: Geelong leaders being BFF’s now and some worthy projects mooted for support (Great Ocean Road, Convention Centre, hell yes), fast rail didn’t rate a solitary mention.

Despite being one of the richest nations in the world, Australia struggles with massive ideas requiring vast sums of money to realise them. We find it far easier to call it all too hard, all too expensive and maintain the status quo. It’s noble to seek value for money. But being tight with infrastructure at a time of massive population growth is just careless.

Sydney and Melbourne already show us that building a killer visitor economy starts with liveability and migration. Yesterday’s most liveable cities are today’s tourism powerhouses. Fast rail is the game changing infrastructure project that can lift Geelong’s liveability. If we can make a serious dent on train travel times to Melbourne, our city will become more diverse. This in turn will boost our visitor economy for the long term.

Here’s the thing – we’re already a commuter hub

Geelong didn’t collapse when our manufacturing workforce shrank because another massive employer stepped into the breach. Covering jobs for around 17,500 Geelong residents, that employer’s name is Melbourne.

Geelong’s present day commuting cohort is now larger than our manufacturing heyday workforce, which peaked in the early 70’s. Imagine tripling the number of employees at Barwon Health, St John of God and the Epworth combined. That’s roughly the number of commuter’s we have in Geelong now. According to RMIT’s Todd Denham, 60% of Victoria’s regional relocater’s make the move while keeping their jobs in Melbourne. Why do they slog it out back to the big smoke each day? Access to good jobs.

It’s a fact that Melbourne offers more lucrative professional roles across more industries than Geelong, especially when it comes to larger employers. Since 2010, 65% of Australia’s jobs growth has come out of big business (those employing more than 200 people). Small business only accounted for about 5% of jobs growth. Access to Melbourne is vital to broaden employment options for existing residents, and to attract newbies of the diverse and skilled variety.

Commuters inject their above-Geelong-average salaries (an extra $400 per week on average according to Mr Denham) into local goods and services, sustaining local employment. It’s not unreasonable to suggest commuters lose three hours or more a day travelling to and from work. Who benefits from this? Sure, the commuter gets a pay-packet. But so too does Geelong.The vast majority of Geelong’s ‘export workers’ commute to Melbourne by train. So to capitalise on this valuable income stream, the time is now to proactively position Geelong as Australia’s number one commuter hub. Now that the Regional Rail Link (RRL) is complete, planning for the next incarnation of rail improvements is vital to improve our liveability.

While the RRL has worked wonders increasing the frequency of services on offer, the commute time remains savage (especially for Monday to Friday sloggers with no workplace flexibility. #staunch) Today’s average train trip from Geelong to Melbourne takes between 62 and 65 minutes. This must be cut down to something resembling a 30 minute trip. Even occasional travellers would be familiar with the delays and regular misdemeanors that bloat journey times. It’s holding our region back from completely kicking it.

Purple train, purple train

Purple train, purple train

Secondly, the timing of future upgrades must be outlined and scheduled as a priority for our region, ASAP. The current rail service capacity for the Geelong line is already peaking, with patronage set to grow further across both Wyndham Vale and the Geelong region. Pressure for seats on return journeys – already standing room only on some trains – will only get worse as new development continues. Hoppers Crossing sells more home lots than any other suburb IN THE WHOLE OF AUSTRALIA right now … it’s going to get seriously ugly on our train line real soon. Will the line to Wyndham Vale be electrified, and when? We need to know the plan here! If we get our own dedicated line, what kind of top speeds can we expect – even, you know … in summer?

Cost is the oft-cited barrier to undertaking new infrastructure projects. Ever heard anyone moan about the staggeringly high cost of the West Gate Bridge? Um no. In typical fashion, the cost was the subject of much debate at the time. Completed in 1978, the total bill came to $202 million. Original forecasts saw 40,000 cars using the bridge. Today, 5 times that number travel across the bridge on a daily basis. Based on inflation, the investment in the West Gate bridge equates to more than $2 billion today. Money well spent.

Who knows how much it would cost to build a fast rail link between Melbourne and Geelong? Perhaps somewhere between 2 and $3 billion. In any case, it’s probably not a cost anyone will bat an eyelid over in 40 years time, assuming the train can run to time in summer weather. Our superannuation funds love a bit of infrastructure investment – maybe they’d like to chip in?

Liveability is the key to propelling our visitor economy

Unlocking Australia’s currently booming visitor economy starts with an acknowledgment of migration’s impact. In Melbourne, the migrant community comprises 35% of the population, in Sydney it’s 39%. Visiting friends and family is the biggest driver of tourist numbers in Australia. Both Sydney and Melbourne are blessed to have proud new migrant residents playing host to family and friends from overseas. This is the primary reason behind the record-breaking tourism numbers both cities enjoy today. Increasing migration to Geelong will give our tourism numbers a lift for the long term. To increase migration and diversity, we need to make our region as accessible as possible to a city that’s already desirable to migrants: Melbourne. Fast rail is both our insurance policy against future homogeny, and the gateway to a pumping visitor economy.

But wait there’s more: startup talent pool FTW

Aside from boosting our visitor economy, fast rail would set Geelong up beautifully to nurture more local startups. Commuters are a latent talent pool for any business based in Geelong. Commuters also play a very important role diversifying our professional talent ranks. This gives greater scope for entrepreneurial ventures to germinate across sectors we’re not currently known for. Make no mistake, there’s plenty of business ideas forming on those train, plane and car rides by Geelong’s commuters. It’s not all serial podcasts and skittles.

But if you’re still not sold on the fast rail idea, here’s an insight to tip you over the edge. Want to know the reason why America’s biggest entrepreneurs set up operations in the locations they do? Clue: it’s not tax breaks or free money. According to Endeavor Research, the key reason American entrepreneurs start a business in a particular location is because they were already living there!

Entrepreneurs at fast-growing firms in the United States usually decide where to live based on personal connections and quality of life factors many years before they start their firms.

So, let’s roll out the welcome mat and get a steady stream of young dreamers and doer’s from near and far into the ‘hood. They may come initially as commuters before we nurture and lovingly transition them into local startups.

We all know the Geelong region is a beautiful place with a superb quality of life – and increasingly so does everyone else. But the easiest way to boost our commuter, migrant, tourist and entrepreneurial ranks is by making us more accessible to Melbourne. This will lift Geelong higher up the consideration list of people seeking the perfect mix of lifestyle and professional options.

Looking at American entrepreneurs, Endeavour Research believes the magic formula for attracting and retaining the best entrepreneurs is this: a great place to live plus a talented pool of potential employees, and excellent access to customers and suppliers.

Bring on Geelong’s dedicated fast rail, and we’ve got this.

 

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