Service sector rules as gas boom give spark to Surat Basin economy

3 Nov 2013, Sophie Foster – Courier Mail.

IN just under six months, General Trade Industries founder Geoff Pike has doubled his workforce and projects his turnover will do the same this financial year.

A plumber by trade, the Thargomindah man now employs most of the people in his town, and has offices spread through the Surat Basin to cater for massive growth off energy contracts there.

“We’re really, really good,” he said of his remote services firm which does everything from installation of equipment through to running workers’ camps.

“Right now is the busiest we’ve ever been. It’s pretty awesome. It took five months to negotiate this contract that we’ve (just) won but it’s the biggest that we’ve ever had before, and that’s where this work comes from. We’re just going gangbusters at the moment.”

Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise chief executive Shane Charles said the region was “very fortunate that it was a service economy.

“We have a high range of industries that are necessary to support (the gas industry expansion),” he said. “Those in the supply chain or services associated with the energy sector have been doing particularly well …

“Local businesses are employing people. They are experiencing real growth, and it’s revitalising these regional communities.”

Mr Charles said in places like Chinchilla, the population had gone from 3,500 people to nearly 8,000, while the Western Downs Regional Council area alone had about 12,500 fly in-fly out workers.

He said while the spike in construction work in the area was expected to peak in 2015, there were still other major projects yet to kick off, such as the Arrow project linking the area with Gladstone – which would require major exploration work.

Mr Charles said some projections put the peak workforce closer to post 2020, but there was also a “really long operations and maintenance phase”.

The concern for TSBE, he said, was to ensure that the region continued to thrive through those times, tailoring themselves for life after construction.

“We don’t think that it is a boom, we think that it’s a long term play, but what we did see (in the United States experience) was that communities that we able to diversify their economies and look for opportunities in agriculture, transport and logistics, and a range of things, were best able to continue to grow and thrive and be vibrant communities.”

He said businesses that were struggling such as clothing shops and hairdressers in places like Miles, were adjusting to new circumstances.

“What some retailing businesses are doing is bussing to the camps where the fly in-fly out workers are so that they can actually shop while they’re on their break. There’s lots of good examples, we’ve just got to make sure we’re doing more of it.”

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