Toowoomba Region at a Crossroads as Major Projects Slowdown

Thursday 23 January, 2020 | By: Dr Marcus Smith and Jack Baxter

Southern Queensland spans three Statistical Area 4 (SA4) regions including Toowoomba and the Darling Downs-Maranoa as well as part of the Queensland Outback.  

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Data compiled from the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research (NIEIR) shows that the annual gross regional product of the Darling Downs and South West Queensland region was $21.233 billion in 2018-19, representing about 5.7% of Queensland’s gross state product.

The region’s economy is underpinned by a diverse industry profile including mining, agriculture, construction and tourism activities where mining activities in the region produces the highest value-added by industry at almost 21%, while agriculture (12.5%), construction (10.4%), health (8.2%) and education (5.7%) rounding out the top 5.

Success in primary producing sectors including mining and agriculture have benefited from favourable terms of trade, while activity in the construction industry follows a pipeline of high-value main road projects.

Following the completion of the final stage of the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, emphasis is now being given to ensuring continued infrastructure planning to sustain employment opportunities in the region.

South Queensland’s business statistics

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the that in June 2018 there were 28,140 businesses within the Local Government Areas of Toowoomba (15,963), the Southern (4,137) and Western Downs (4,798), Maranoa (2,399) and Balonne (844) and small businesses with less than 20 employees accounted for 98%.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing make up the largest share (~31.7%), followed by construction (~13.9%) and rental, hiring and real estate (~9.1%).

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Regional labour force statistics

Australian Bureau of Statistics Trend labour force data compiled by Conus/CBC Staff Selection shows that at November 2019 the labour force of the SA4 regions of Toowoomba and the Darling Downs Maranoa consisted of 128,600 employed and 6,200 unemployed persons.

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 While the Darling Downs and Maranoa region has managed to put on around 5,000 persons year on year to November 2019 (3,700 full-time and 1,300 part-time roles), Toowoomba, on the other hand, has shed over 15,200 jobs with the annual fall being made up of 12,400 less full-time jobs and 2,800 less part-time jobs.

It is feasible to suggest that the conclusion of major projects including the Second Ranges Crossing and engineering work on the national inland rail coupled with drought have had an impact on the level of economic activity in the region.

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Detailed quarterly industry employment data compiled by Conus/CBC Staff Selection to August 2019 shows that that the major industry employers in the Toowoomba and Darling Downs-Maranoa to be Health Care and Social Assistance (17.2%), Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (8.4%), Retail Trade (8.4%) and Education and Training (8.4%).

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The 12 months to August 2019 saw employment growth in industries including Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, Transport, Postage and Warehousing, as well as Professional and Other services. However, this coincided with declines over the same period in Construction, Accommodation and Food Services, Manufacturing, Retail Trade, and Mining.

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 Charting the changes in the monthly trend data highlights the difficult job market between August 2018 and June 2019, predominantly in the Toowoomba region.

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Charting the percentiles for each job growth number shows each monthly job growth number relative to all observations dating back to 1998, highlighting the deep monthly declines from between mid-2018-19.

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Relative unemployment

The unemployment rate for both SA4 regions was 4.8% for November, which has come down since last year but remains marginally higher than the average trend unemployment rate of 4.7%. Toowoomba’s jobless rate is higher at 5.1% compared with 4.2% for the Darling Downs-Maranoa region.

The broader region’s trend unemployment rate remains one of the lowest in the State and is lower than Queensland’s November 2019 headline rate of 6.4% on a trend basis.

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Compared to other surrounding regions, the November unemployment rate in the Toowoomba and Darling Downs-Maranoa regions is currently 1.3% lower than Greater Brisbane, 3.2% lower than Ipswich, 3.4% lower than Logan-Beaudesert and 7.3% lower than Outback Queensland.

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Looking more closely at the region’s unemployment rate from an historical perspective, the results of an analysis of variance show that there is a highly, statistically significant difference of 1.3% between the average unemployment rates for the Toowoomba and Darling Downs-Maranoa regions and Queensland’s average headline trend measure of 5.98%.

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The following statistics show that indeed that together the Toowoomba and Darling Downs-Maranoa regions have the lowest average unemployment rate amongst other surrounding centres as well as Greater Brisbane, with the analysis of variance indicating that the differences are all highly statistically significant.

The average unemployment rate for Toowoomba and Darling Downs-Maranoa is 1.03% lower than Greater Brisbane, 2.81% lower than the Queensland Outback, 2.09% lower than the Ipswich region and 2.83% lower than the Logan and Beaudesert region.

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Breakdowns of unemployment by age shows that youth unemployment remains a problem for the Toowoomba region with almost 1 in 5 persons (18%) between the age of 15 and 24 looking for work, which compares to 6.8% within the Darling Down-Maranoa region.

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The labour force statistics further show a sharp decline in the workforce participation rate in Toowoomba from mid-2018 which currently is below 50%, while in the Darling Downs-Maranoa it remains at almost 70%. The workforce participation statistic measures the proportion of the labour force in the economy between the age group of 16 to 64 that are employed or currently searching for work.

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The median time spent looking for work rose sharply in Toowoomba during 2017 to a high of at 80 weeks (around 20 months) in May 2019, while in the Darling Downs-Maranoa region it peaked at 93 weeks in January in the same year.

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It is important to note that there is naturally a degree of sampling error involving data compiled by the ABS, especially at the regional level. Thanks to Pete Faulkner and his team at Conus/CBC Staff Selection for doing a fantastic job compiling the trend regional labour force statistics.

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