Toowoomba bucks slumping business confidence trends

CONFIDENT: Dale Robbins, general manager of Downs Office Equipment and Supplies, believes Toowoomba is bucking the trend of poor business confidence in regional Queensland.
CONFIDENT: Dale Robbins, general manager of Downs Office Equipment and Supplies, believes Toowoomba is bucking the trend of poor business confidence in regional Queensland. Tom Gillespie

DALE Robbins has watched Toowoomba evolve since he first arrived 35 years ago, and believes it still has more room to grow.

The general manager of Downs Office Equipment and Supplies is one of several business owners displaying confidence in the Garden City as an economic stronghold.

But the same can't be said with the rest of the state, with regional Queensland's business confidence the second-lowest in Australia, just ahead of the Northern Territory.

Mr Robbins said while Toowoomba had not returned to the glory days of the coal seam gas boom, there was plenty of evidence that businesses were starting to find their feet again.

"Since the slowdown with business in the Surat Basin, there was a marked decline in economic activity and that flowed over into the entire region, with Dalby and Chinchilla the hardest hit in terms of economic effect," he said.

"The breadth of it was quite wide, because it was all of the service industries, not just those involved in the mining caper - it was anyone supplying directly to the mining industries.

"Since that time, I think business has improved but not to those lofty heights.

"Toowoomba is probably doing better than most and you've only got to look at the degree and extent of capital infrastructure investment in town."

Downs Office Equipment, which has run continuously for 55 years, snagged the contract to supply the University of Southern Queensland with its printer and copier supplies in January, and holds agreements with certain government departments.

Mr Robbins said the city's supportive business environment gave them the confidence to venture further into contract work.

"Obviously there's a very positive atmosphere in the economy and it's evident by the things you see around you, with small business start-ups and the large investments like Grand Central," he said.

"All of those things are very positive, and they're a hallmark of expected future growth, particularly with population expansion.

"I've been here since 1982 and Toowoomba looks significantly different than what it did then."

Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce CEO Jo Sheppard agreed with Mr Robbins' sentiments, adding that the region faced significant challenges in the near future.

"Businesses are still calling on payroll tax reviews, but there's not a suggestion of intent from the State Government on that," she said.

"Skilled staff remains a major issue for a lot of businesses in Toowoomba - that's what people are worried about.

"Toowoomba is a positive anomaly, and I reckon it's because we have such a diverse economy."

Topics:  business confidence survey regional queensland toowoomba

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