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Toowoomba's booming, but skills shortage is looming

A $13 BILLION economic bonanza for Toowoomba has got the city scurrying to lure new residents to fill jobs.

The Darling Downs city - being dubbed Too-boom-ba - is preparing plans to lure workers to go and live there as a raft of huge infrastructure projects and other developments crate a looming skills shortage.

"That's the biggest challenge we have at the moment," Shane Charles, executive chairman of Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise, said.

"There are 500 jobs unfilled. We need people to relocate here."

The business group is now looking at a crowd-funding campaign to recruit workers from areas of high unemployment in Queensland and other parts of Australia.

"We have work opportunities, we're the most family-friendly city in Australia and the median house price is still only $375,000," Mr Charles said.

The latest lift for Toowoomba came with the Federal Government announcement that the inland rail route from Melbourne to Brisbane will take it right past the city's Wellcamp Airport and three enormous industrial and logistics parks being constructed.

"That means all three pieces of the puzzle in place - road, rail and air - in place, setting us up to be a preferred freight hub in the country," he said.

The $1.6 billion, 41-kilometre Toowoomba Second Range Crossing highway is already under construction and the airport, privately built and run by the local Wagner family, continues to expand.

More than $8 billion of the inland rail investment will be spent on the Queensland section.

Mr Charles said the inland rail decision gave certainty to investors, developers and businesses.

The Charlton Wellcamp Enterprise Zone includes a business park and road, rail and air logistics facility being developed adjacent to the airport.

"Inland rail means we can get (farm) produce from southern New South Wales and northern Victoria here in 14 hours, onto an aircraft to Hong Kong and delivered within 12 hours," John Wagner said.

Another huge intermodal transport facility and industrial and warehousing estate is being built by InterLinkSQ, and a technology park being developed by another local family of entrepreneurs, the Gardners' FKG company.

"Some of the people who own land in that area are already looking for more land - and that's some sign of confidence given there's already 2000 hectares available," Mr Charles said.

Construction of FKG's Pulse data centre - the largest in any regional centre in Australia - will be complete by the end of the year. The $45 million project will be the catalyst for its 30-hectare technology park, expected to generate 10,000 jobs over the next two decades.

FKG group manager Dallas Hunter said: "We are out there actively attracting businesses now." They are targeting international companies, with a focus on agritech, advanced manufacturing and the resources industry."

Dan Briskey, manager of local NRG Electrical which has increased its turnover by 10 times and grown staff from two to 50 over six years, said: "Toowoomba is in a purple patch.

"The way the city is booming and the amount of infrastructure going on, people do want to come here. It's a very liveable city that's starting to offer the things that major cities can offer. There's a feeling that Toowoomba is the place to be at the moment."

The next big push for Queensland's "garden city" is tourism.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pledged $250,000 for a feasibility study into plans to transform a disused quarry on the escarpment of the Great Dividing Range into a world-class attraction, modelled on Canada's Butchart Gardens.

"It's absolutely imperative that we get it constructed over the next 12 months," Mr Wagner said.

"We need to turn Toowoomba into an international tourism destination."

The Wagners are also helping to drive a push to create a $40 million motorsports venue on land adjacent to the airport.

Topics:  economy jobs shortage resources industry skills toowoomba toowoomba and surat basin enterprise working


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