This is an executive summary of an address to the 10th World Chamber Congress in Sydney on 20 September 2017 by Katherine O’Regan, Executive Director, Cities Leadership Institute and Chair of the Double Bay and Districts Business Chamber.
Nine out of ten Australians live in an urban environment, making cities across the nation centres of social and economic activity. A closer examination of Australian cities reveals that 80 per cent of the dollar value of all goods and services is produced on only 0.2 per cent of the nation’s land mass – namely in Sydney and Melbourne.
This concentration of economic activity, predominately in knowledge intensive businesses, has driven national prosperity. It also has created long commutes to work from the outer city areas where most of the population lives and created a productivity imbalance between the job rich central business districts and the business activity in the outer areas.
The solutions to this city business challenge centre on jobs, mobility and innovation and includes:
finding ways to enable more workers to live closer to these productivity centres
create jobs closer to where the people are living and;
use innovation to support increased productivity across all businesses and centres
These solutions require a city to collaborate with business leadership – where city leadership includes business leadership and where business leadership includes city leadership.
In a city like Newcastle, 150 kilometres north of Sydney central business district, city business leadership is making a real difference. Where a curated collaboration across city and State governments, business and the University is building an innovation economy. Where a digital infrastructure, encompassing high-speed fibre-to-the-premises broadband and free public WiFi, through a revitalised city centre will underpin an innovation district supporting entrepreneurs, tech and knowledge-related start-ups and existing enterprises in both traditional and emergent sectors.
A city transformation at this scale is only possible where city and business leaders understand each other’s priorities, resources, investment capacity and their challenges. It is from there a strong coalition and a momentum can be created to energise and re-shape the city.
Innovation and collaboration between business and city government to create and sustain jobs close to home need not always be on a grand scale. In fact, it is often the simple things that can really make a difference.
In Double Bay, five kilometres outside of Sydney central business district, it has been the development of a Place or Precinct Plan by the local Business Chamber and the Council that has created a real step change.
This Plan is a public document founded on shared goals and a shared ownership and accountability to make the civic centre a sustainable community. It outlines the physical and cultural characteristics of the place so that from the pathways to the park, the street to the shop front there is a unique and pervasive sense of where you are.
The outcomes of the Plan has been a social health and pride in the place as well as a focused attraction of talent, the development of business and the securing of investment.
Looking forward, we know that both cities and businesses will continue to transform.
This change will bring both challenges and opportunities. Where Business and Cities navigate this journey together both will thrive. Building strong communities makes good business sense.