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How our tourist mecca became launch pad for high-tech industry


Once best known for its golden beaches, Queensland’s Gold Coast has become a Mecca for businesses as diverse as space technology and building buses and luxury yachts.

When Adam Gilmour and his brother James of Gilmour Space Technologies wanted to establish a rocket-building “centre of excellence” in Australia, the Gold Coast was their obvious choice.

“We started a rocket company and there was no particular place in Australia that was the centre of excellence,” Gilmour said.

“We chose between Brisbane and the Gold Coast so we could attract talent both from the Brisbane area and the Gold Coast area.

“We’ve stayed here because we’ve got really good relationships with the universities in the neighbourhood, including Griffith and the University of Queensland, and we’ve been able to attract a lot of foreign rocket talent into the country and from NSW and Victoria because the Gold Coast is a wonderful place to live and bring up your children.”

From rockets to mining equipment, luxury yachts, beauty, healthcare, nutritional supplements and low-emission green buses, new-wave manufacturing is now the third-largest sector on the Gold Coast.

Total sales from manufacturing on the Gold Coast are valued at over $8 billion, which have grown almost 20 per cent over the past 5 years.

Amid a concerted push to diversify the Gold Coast’s economic base, major manufacturers and home-grown manufacturing success stories have increasingly cemented themselves, and the sector, in the city’s economic landscape.

Demand for manufacturing during the pandemic has been fuelled by a need for stronger local supply chains, but this is sidelined by the rapid pace of technology changing the way we make products, from modern methods of construction to advanced robotics.

The number of full-time equivalent workers in manufacturing on the Gold Coast has grown by 15 per cent in the 5 years to June 2020, with more and more skilled professionals required, many of which are coming from interstate.

Innovative bus and mass transport manufacturer, BusTech, employs 300 people making buses on the Gold Coast and in Adelaide, as well as a joint venture bus manufacturing operation with Elphinstone at Burnie in Tasmania.

The company has grown from its beginnings hiring former staff of General Motors Holden in Adelaide after GMH announced in 2020 that the Holden brand would be retired by 2021, to become a national group.  A recruitment drive in the United Kingdom followed, aimed at Australian expats returning home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With many Australians wanting to come home and continue working at the cutting edge of transportation, the company attracted talent to bolster its workforce specialising in manufacturing clean energy mass-transport solutions at its facility at Burleigh on the southern Gold Coast.

BusTech Group Executive Chairman Christian Reynolds said the focus on environmentally-friendly buses, manufactured using use a supply chain that is over 95 per cent located in Australia, was in response to the transport sector’s position as the second-largest and fastest-growing emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in NSW and Australia.

“To me, it is all about the future of energy transport – energy capture and energy creation,” Reynolds said.

“We are now switching to all-electric buses and we have a hydrogen bus in the project scope and design phase.”

Complementing the Gold Coast’s network of innovative micro-factories, the Yatala Enterprise Area has emerged as the industrial engine room of the city.

The 3,300 hectare precinct is home to some of Australia’s leading manufactures in food and beverage, construction materials, machinery and equipment, plastic and chemicals as well as warehousing, transport and distribution.

Carlton & United Breweries, Visy, Real Pet Food Company, Caterpillar and Seabest International are based in the precinct, along with regional distribution centres for Aldi and Woolworths.

For Gilmour, the Helensvale-based rocket business that manufactures tanks, support structures, rocket engines, avionics and software for launch vehicles to carry satellites into space, is locked into the Gold Coast.

The company that has 72 staff but is looking to grow to beyond 100 by the end of the year, said the strength of its supply chain from Brisbane to the Gold Coast meant it was ideally located.

“We’re very happy here and we’ve now established the Gold Coast as the centre of excellence for building rockets in Australia and we’d love to stay here as we expand, which we plan to do in the next 12 to 18 months,” Gilmour said.

“We’re trailblazers, we’ve had to push through a lot of barriers a lot of hurdles, a lot of regulation, a lot of scepticism, but we’re doing it and we’re committed to keep going.”


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QIC Carves Off 50pc Stake in Westfield Helensvale


Fund manager QIC will test the retail market by offloading its 50 per cent share in a Gold Coast shopping centre.

The half stake in Westfield Helensvale is expected to be worth more than $200 million with Scentre Group owning the other share.

The centre was built in 2005 on a 17.27ha site in the Gold Coast growth corridor at 1-29 Millaroo Drive, just off the Pacific Highway.

Major retailers Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, Kmart and Target account for 88 per cent of the total GLA which is approximately 44,800 square metres.


▲ Westfield Helensvale is located in the Gold Coast’s growth corridor, just off the Pacific Highway. 

CBRE’s head of retail capital markets Simon Rooney said retail fundamentals were continuing to improve so this offer would test the market.

“We expect this strategic 50 per cent stake in Westfield Helensvale to be competitively contested, as regional assets of this nature are traditionally tightly held and rarely traded,” Rooney said.

“The centre’s high productivity, robust performance and solid rebound after Queensland’s Covid lockdowns will help drive competitive investor interest, as will the asset’s strategic growth corridor location, high customer spend and surrounding significant transport infrastructure.”

The latest large-scale shopping centre transactions involved the Lederer Group’s $300 million NSW portfolio and YFG’s two-stage purchase of Mt Ommaney shopping centre in Brisbane for $380 million, which finalised in early 2020.

In 2019 Scentre Group acquired a 50 per cent stake in Western Australia’s Garden City centre for $575 million.


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Residents in path of planned Coomera Connector say they have been ‘left in the dark’


Residents living in the path of south-east Queensland’s future Coomera Connector say they feel trapped in limbo as they wait for their properties to be bulldozed for the major road project.

The new 45-kilometre corridor will link Logan to the northern Gold Coast, offering an alternative to the congested M1.

Construction of the first stage of the project — from Nerang to Coomera — will begin later this year, while the second phase — from Coomera to Loganholme — is some years away.

Some residents along that route say they have been told their homes will be demolished but they do not know when.

“I feel a bit cheated … not being communicated to makes you think you’re not going to get treated fairly,” Alberton resident Peter Stephens said.

Mr Stephens built his family home more than a decade ago on a nine-acre block on the banks of the Albert River.

In 2019, he received notice from the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) that his land was required to build the road.

Since then, Mr Stephens said he had been “left in the dark” about the project and had received no time frame for when his property would be bulldozed.

“Even an indication to say you’ve got five years, or you’ve got 10 years, nothing,” he said.

Mr Stephen’s house is one of 28 properties in Eagleby, Stapylton and Alberton that will be demolished to make way for the road. Another 117 privately owned properties will be at least partially resumed.

Mr Stephens said the wait for answers was creating uncertainty for his young daughter.

“My daughter is autistic, she’s eight and she struggles a lot at school academically,” he said.

“I see this place here as a learning environment for her.

“Everything we’ve built, the lifestyle we have … everything will have to be replaced.”


The Queensland government has been transparent about the planned road, Transport Minister Mark Bailey says.(ABC News: Lily Nothling)

Road ‘desperately needed’

Transport Minister Mark Bailey said a business case for the northern route would be prepared “over the next year or two” to determine when land resumptions would begin.

“For a piece of infrastructure this large, that’s actually a relatively modest number of properties required,” Mr Bailey said.

“We are never going to achieve 100 per cent support for any particular option. When you build big infrastructure, there’s going to be a diversity of views.”

Mr Bailey said the department had been transparent and was committed to ongoing community consultation throughout various stages of the project.

“This is a desperately needed road,” he said.

“Northern Gold Coast suburbs are some of the fastest growing suburbs in the whole nation, let alone the state.”

Eagleby cane farmer Mick Herse said the road would claim about seven hectares of his land, which his family had owned for more than 150 years.

“It will take away our only fresh water supply,” Mr Herse said.

“It will surround the property with highway in every direction.”

Mr Herse said his questions to transport officials had gone unanswered for more than two years.

“I’m properly pissed,” he said.

“You’re going to take something away from everybody. It’s just nobody knows when, why or for how much

Some residents also fear the gazetted road corridor will devastate the ecologically significant Eagleby Wetlands.

“It’s a very extensive complex – it’s host to close to 300 bird varieties, some of them migratory,” Marilyn Goodwin from the Eagleby Community and Wetlands Group said.

“This [road] would effectively lock all of the residents of Eagleby, around 14,000 people, in a horseshoe of noise, sound and pollution — as well as losing this beautiful green space.”

The state government says the chosen route will have the smallest footprint on homes and the environment, but Ms Goodwin says her group will continue to advocate for alternative options.

“It’s unfair, it’s not transparent and it doesn’t take any of the community interests into account,” she said.


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Plans for 12-Storey Tower on Gold Coast ‘Spine’


Plans for a 12-storey mixed use retail and residential tower in the heart of a low-rise Gold Coast beach suburb have been lodged with the Gold Coast City Council.

Gold Coast developer Daniel Veitch has unveiled plans for The Oxley, a two-storey arched retail podium with an eight-storey residential unit tower on top, taking style inspiration from the Gold Coast’s iconic Pink Poodle Hotel, which was demolished in 2004.

It would be the second stage of the Nobby Beach retail rejuvenation, set on a 2406sq m site next to George Manettas’ The Frederick, which is a complementary design.

The towers would be four-times higher than the three-storey, or 15m high, allowance under current zoning.

The development would include 88 dwellings, retail, and food and drink outlets, according to the BDA Architecture plans for the “subtropical” mixed-use development.


▲ The Oxley takes style inspiration from some of the Gold Coast’s most iconic architecture. Image: BDA Architecture 

The block fronts the Gold Coast Highway and Lavarack Road at Nobby Beach, and would be within walking distance from the light rail station that is due to be completed at the end of 2024.

According to the development application the site is a “prime opportunity to provide high quality residential and short term accommodation” for the Nobby Beach area.

“This area is becoming an emerging ‘village’ destination with its commercial, retail and food and beverage opportunities,” the report stated.

“The design proposal seeks to create a new integrated development that enhances and activates the boutique retail village that offers food and beverage, office, medical, boutique retail outlets and dining opportunities with the proposed residential apartments above.”

According to BDA Architecture, the development would “respectfully build up the residential density along the Future Light Rail spine”.

Speaking at The Urban Developer’s In Focus: Gold Coast webinar last week, Urbis director Matthew Schneider said the Gold Coast was made up of a series of villages that would be connected by intensive development along the light rail spine.

“The Light Rail Corridor comes in with a mandate for transformational change including scale of development—much more urban,” Schneider said.

“The hitting zones for this are Mermaid, Nobby Beach, Burleigh Heads, Palm Beach, and now to Kirra Beach and Coolangatta.

“Anywhere where that transformational change is happening off the back of infrastructure is where those [development] hot spots are.”


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