Region future forestry reliant

THE outlook for the South West is terrific provided the life support in the form of the forestry industry does not endure further attacks.

This is the picture that emerged from a recent report into the South West by the Edith Cowan University Australian Management Development and Research Centre.

The report was commissioned by Home Building Society to give an indication of future growth prospects in the region which would have a bearing on the Society’s growth in the South West.

The region was the fastest growing area outside of Perth and the actual and predicted growth rates also exceeded that of Perth.

The South West had a lower unemployment rate than the WA average but the traditional base, particularly in forestry, was under attack.

“The lack of real strength in the diversity of job opportunities in the South West may prove to be the weakness in the foreseeable future,” the report says.

AMDRC Commercial Arm director Glenn Watkins said from a historical point of view the employment prospects look great.

“But if you attack a fundamental industries as is happening now then you have a problem,” Dr Watkins said.

“If people start to understand how fragile the industry base is in the South West, then you can understand why (South West) people get upset.”

“It’s going to cause real problems for the region. You’ve got to have alternatives before you destroy someone’s livelihood.”

The report shows the Agricul-tural, Forestry and Fishing industry accounts for 2,700 businesses in the South West.

The next largest sector, retail, comprises a little more than 1,000 businesses while there are only 355 businesses involved in the tourism industry in the form of accommodation, cafes and restaurants.

Dr Watkins dismisses tourism as providing a real alternative option.

With the majority of visitors to the region coming from within the the state, the only way to increase tourism is by increasing the interstate and international visitors.

That, he said, is beyond the scope of the local population.

Encouraging WA travellers to choose the South West over other state destinations is a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul, Dr Watkins said.

He said if he were to run a business in the South West he would target it toward the 50 plus age group.

Busselton, in particular, is expected to have a strong influx of older people who are moving south for the lifestyle.

In 1991, the 50 to 59 age group represented 10 per cent of the Busselton population. By 2011 it will form 16 per cent.

Dr Watkins said infrastructure was continually improving in the South West although a lot still needed to be done.

The prospect of establishing a silicon valley in the South West is crazy, Dr Watkins said.

“When you look at things like silicon valleys you have to look at the world market,” he said.

“You’ve got to work on your strengths – what you are good at.

“I can’t see us competing successfully with industries in countries such as China and Thailand.”

Dr Watkins said another area that needed addressing was the need for a reliable source of water – a problem not unique to the South West.

“Water, I think will be one of the major inhibitors of future growth,” he said.

“We can’t dam any more rivers.”

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