What’s the forecast? Central West still going strong towards 2019

November 5, 2018
by Lawrie Breen

2018 has been a tough year on many fronts. For all of us in regional Australia, particularly in NSW, the drought has been front and centre in our thinking, with many of our Central West cousins in the farming community feeling the full effects of the lack of rainfall. Some of the scenes have been tough to witness.

While this has cast a shadow over the year, I read with interest recently, an article talking about the overall economic health of our region. As a business owner and lifelong resident, I’m always interested in the economic outlook. The crux of the article: Even with the drought, towns like Orange have continued to see some positive signs, economically.

So, I thought I’d take a look at the issue, focusing in on the Central West at large, but also specifically our hometown of Orange, asking the question: How are we travelling from an economic point of view? And what’s 2019 going to bring?

There are positive signs

At a time when there’s plenty to worry about, I am pleasantly surprised by the generally positive attitude I’m hearing when talking to other businesses. Last week, I attended the Bathurst Business Awards, and in talking to our clients and other business owners who attended, the view was that overall business conditions are still favourable. No doubt there are differences across industries, but to hear from the ground level that it’s still strong is a good indication that there’s growth left.

In the article I referenced above, there were figures from the NSW Chamber of Commerce about a decline in business confidence in our region for the last quarter. I think this reflects the situation we’re in; there have been a few headwinds encountered that need to be heeded, but there’s still strength in our economy.

A focus on Orange

In our hometown of Orange, there have been some really positive signs. The strength of our tourism sector has no doubt insulated our town, but it’s exciting to see that there are developments that show we have a reason to be positive.

After seeing figures recently that Orange has seen property price increases, I reached out to Simon Pressley from Propertyology, who had some really interesting statistics around the situation in Orange and regional Australia in general.

House prices are seeing good growth, with the median house price rising 11.1% (compared to a 9% decline in Sydney, as an example), which is a good sign that our local area is still attractive. Unemployment is also low, at 4.4%.

One strength, that I don’t believe we always focus on locally, is the rise in flights to and from Orange Airport. We now have a direct connection to not only Sydney but Melbourne and Brisbane too. The number of flights from Orange has had an overall increase.While that may signal tourism to some, and that certainly is a huge benefit to that sector, it also opens business opportunities. Direct flights from major capitals, avoiding the need to go via Sydney, make Orange a more attractive business option. When you think about it, the fact we have such great access puts us alongside other regional centres, like Newcastle and Coffs Harbour, which is a real boon for the Central West.

Simon will be writing more on this topic in the coming weeks, and I’d suggest it’s worth checking out. He has a real passion for regional Australia that is great to see.

There was also the recent announcement by Uber that they’re coming to regional towns, with Central West locations like Orange and Bathurst high on their list. The gig economy is expanding, and while it has its fair share of troubles, it can only be a positive sign for our region that a multinational is investing in opening their services in our area.

There are some challenges 

It would be remiss of me to suggest that it is entirely rosy. Apart from the drought, there’s certainly a feeling across our country that growth is slowing, and the overall economic growth rate has been pretty thin in recent years, despite a strong June quarter.

Are we heading towards tougher economic times overall in Australia? We haven’t had a true recession since the 90’s, so there would certainly be economists out there who would argue that it’s overdue. There’s plenty of the Millennial generation who have never experienced a downturn, and that could certainly be a shock to the system for some.

2019 still presents opportunities

For me, while you always have to be prepared, it still looks as though there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic in 2019.

My advice, and I still remind myself of this regularly, is to get on top of your strategic planning. Driving growth in the good times is one thing, but having a solid plan and approachto the market can help you navigate any negative territory. It’s those businesses that take a strategic approach who will come out the other side.

Most of all, for all the farming businesses in our community, we’re all in it together and let’s hope we see better rainfall in the months ahead.

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