When I was in Sydney for work recently, a Sydney-based colleague casually mentioned he’d been to Perth once.
“I went to Perth for a night,” he said. “I spent a week.”
While said in jest, this view is not uncommonly held among those who live on the east coast.
Having spent seven years living in Sydney, some of my best friends are Sydneysiders, and the reactions when I told them a few years ago I was moving back to Perth ranged from sympathy to disbelief. I could see it in their faces – but why?
I’ll tell you why.
I missed my friends; I missed my family. We had a young child, and another on the way. We’d outgrown our house, and upsizing looked like a far more realistic prospect on the west coast than the east.
But most of all, I knew what a great city Perth was. What a great city Perth is. I grew up in Perth, and have fond memories of the time I spent living and working here, before moving to London to explore Europe and unintentionally build a (since abandoned) career in financial journalism.
The sunshine, beautiful beaches, sunsets over the ocean, open space, work-life balance, ease at which you can get around, proximity to Asia, supportive local communities; there’s a lot to love about the most isolated city in the world.
It strikes me though, that while those of us who choose to live in Perth are fans, we don’t do ourselves any favours in our attitudes to living here.
As locals, we want Perth to remain a well kept secret.
Let’s not tell people how great it is here, we think, lest they choose to come and clog up our roads with traffic, our streets with people, and - dare I say - take our jobs.
It’s far easier to focus on the benefits of keeping that ‘holiday town’ feel that my English husband spoke of when he first visited Perth with me. Little did he know that a few years later, that holiday town would become his permanent home.
It’s easier, yet naïve and blinkered, to focus on the downsides of Perth becoming a more popular place to live and work, given research shows that migrants actually create jobs – and run a third of Australian small businesses. This is important, given WA’s unemployment rate, while down this month to 6.1% from 6.4%, is the highest in the country.
Let’s celebrate what WA has to offer
But perhaps it’s unfair to position Perthites as insular and parochial.
I think these attitudes are so entrenched, that it’s hard for those of us who have spent our lives here to open our mindset to the opportunities that are right in front of us. Like the opportunity of turning WA into a globally competitive marketplace, or a renewable energy powerhouse.
But that’s exactly what WA could be, if we find the drive to make it happen.
A new report from Regional Development Australia called ‘Lithium Valley: Establishing the case for energy metals and batter manufacturing in Western Australia’ highlights WA’s capacity to capitalise on the impending lithium battery boom by moving into downstream processing, rather than focusing solely on exports.
The report found Australia misses out on 99.5%, or $213 billion, of the potential value of its lithium assets because it doesn’t have the capacity to process battery minerals, produce battery cells or assemble products.
Recently, I attended the launch of a new initiative called Energise WA, led by James Lush (an Englishman), and supported by global innovators like Bonnie Lin (an American).
Energise WA is an initiative borne out of a belief that WA is uniquely positioned to pioneer the new energy era, to collaborate to create a cleaner, greener, smarter future for Western Australians, and to showcase what WA has to offer to the world.
It struck me as interesting that an ‘outsider’ – someone who wasn’t borne and bred in Perth – had not only recognised what an immense opportunity is here for the taking, but was the one driving the collaboration needed to propel us towards it.
Why is that? Are we, the locals, really so blind to the possibilities for WA, or are we just content remaining in the shadows?
It’s time for WA to compete on a global scale
Last week, the Committee for Perth released its latest FACTBase report, which found that Perth is the second most competitive economy in Australia. While celebrating this fact, the report acknowledges the need for local economies to be competitive in a global, not just national context.
For Perth, this means considering performance relative to cities in Asia, the Americas and Europe.
The factors under consideration in determining local economic competitiveness include human capital, innovation, technological advancement, entrepreneurship, agglomeration, infrastructure and accessibility.
Greater Sydney earned poll position as the country’s most competitive economy, while Greater Melbourne ranked third behind Perth.
One of the big risks for WA though, in exploiting the Lithium Valley opportunity, is that we fail to diversify away from our reliance on the mining sector.
According to the Committee for Perth there are 652 firms headquartered in Perth that are listed on the ASX, and of those, 391 are in the mining and resources sector while 110 are in the energy sector.
For the local economy to thrive long-term, we must invest in industries beyond minerals and energy, or forever be tied to the boom-bust cyclicality of commodity markets.
Kristen is a highly motivated and passionate researcher with eight years' experience in the market research industry. As Director of CoreData Western Australia, she is based in our Perth office and responsible for business development, client relationship management and project management across a diverse client base.
Kristen has a deep understanding of the financial services industry, strong client engagement skills and is a regular media commentator. Her Perth client base spans aged care, banks, super funds, not-for-profits and utilities.
Before relocating to Perth to establish the WA business, Kristen was Head of Financial Services in CoreData’s Sydney office. Prior to joining CoreData in 2009, she was a financial journalist for seven years.
Kristen is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, has a Master of Business Administration (Exec) from the Australian Graduate School of Management, a Bachelor of Arts, Journalism (with Distinction) from Curtin University of Technology and is a fully accredited member of the Australian Market and Social Research Society of Australia.