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Challenge issued to regional communities

GROWING regional Queensland will be about challenging notions it is "a little bit backward", leveraging off strengths and taking the focus off farming and mining.

This is what two researchers will tell the state's mayors today as they begin to manage the 50% growth Queenslanders want to see in regional areas by 2044.

Professor John Cole, from the University of Southern Queensland, said there were no magic bullet solutions from governments in Brisbane and Canberra to double regional Queensland's population.

The Institute for Resilient Regions director said local communities each needed to develop their own long-term strategies taking account of strengths and weaknesses, particularly focusing on the human capital side of things.

He will tell the Local Government Association of Queensland's Regional and Economic Development Conference that communities must find new ways to use mining industry skills - such as fitters and turners and electricians - and focus more on the services industries.

"I challenge regional communities to think differently of themselves. There is an almost green acre view of life in the country, of people a little bit backward and different to folk in the city, who can't develop sophisticated economies, I think we should challenge that," he said.

"There's so much innovation and capacity out there.

"Often we tend to think of the future of regional Australia as being a farm and a mine but that is always curious to me because 85% of jobs are services.

"The nub of the issue is how do we make regional Australia an attractive place to live and work?"

Regional Australia Institute chief Su McCluskey said councils would need to drive the innovation and capitalise on strengths they share with neighbouring regions to be most effective.

She said it was about luring the regional returnists - those in the 25 to 44 year age group who had moved away for studies and were now moving back to the Gold and Sunshine coasts, west Moreton, Wide Bay, Darling Downs, Fitzroy and the Mackay regions.

Ms McCluskey said it was also about attracting the baby boomers in the 50 to 69 year age group who contribute their experience to regions as regional leaders, volunteers or through community groups.

She said Townsville was probably Queensland's strongest and most diverse regional centre but cities like Mackay and Gladstone needed to work on their competitiveness when it came to infrastructure, business sophistication and human capital.

Ms McCluskey said there were real opportunities to be competitive along the Queensland coastline but there would be challenges further inland.

Toowoomba was the inland exception, she said, noting it had great regional potential for growth with a new airport and major road infrastructure on the way.

Mr Cole said there was a need to look at the role of universities and educational facilities, health services, aged care facilities and other essential services. He said focusing on these industries would not only help Australians thinking about living in regional communities but provide a basis for industry development and even exports.  

South Burnett

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