Toowoomba and region need updated vision and brand to make the most of possibilities for regional prosperity and growth

Innovation, knowledge and networks to turn southern Queensland into a long term leading economy and region were the core themes of a three day ‘mini-summit’ of community and regional development workshops USQ’s Institute for Resilient Regions (IRR) hosted late last month (26-28 November) following on from the Queensland Government’s Toowoomba Community Cabinet Meeting. 

The key message to emerge from the ‘mini-summit’ was that the Toowoomba-Darling Downs region is on the cusp of a major infrastructure-driven transformation requiring an updated and accelerated regional vision and brand – if it is to take account of the changes already underway and to make the most of future opportunities. 

Co-sponsored by USQ, Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) and Toowoomba Surat Basin Enterprise (TSBE) the workshops were facilitated by leading international experts Rodin Genoff and Stephen Ames outlining how to envisage and build knowledge-based internationally competitive 21st century regional economies. 

The mini-summit mirrored the State Government’s recently released draft 30 year Queensland Plan which has recognised the importance of an ambitious vision for regional communities as well as the crucial importance of good planning, the provision of enabling infrastructure and fit- for- purpose education and innovation in making the most of the state’s vast assets. 

USQ’s strategic direction in education and research aligns closely with the Queensland Plan’s emphasis on regional development based around centres of excellence and leadership in the four pillars of agriculture, tourism, resources and construction.

The aim of the mini-summit was to come up with the key ways and means of maximising the economic and social development possibilities in southern Queensland outside of the metropolitan south east – in short to put the key   priorities of the Queensland Plan into practice in our region.

The three distinct areas identified by the workshops as priorities for follow-up included:

(a)    A collaborative strategy to enable the region to be more strategic and innovative, better utilising its knowledge, networks, and resources to build a knowledge-based internationally competitive 21st century regional economy;

(b)    Developing community leadership and innovation capacity, formulation of an updated regional vision and brand as well as other initiatives to accelerate vision into plans and action;

(c)     Identifying how to secure early adopter advantages through the region developing its own vision and preparing a plan that is aligned with the State Government’s 30 year Queensland Plan.

A central theme will be how to build knowledge clusters in industry as a platform for innovation and sharing knowledge to achieve a competitive advantage globally.

The first part of the mini-summit was facilitated by Rodin Genoff who works internationally brokering and turning industry knowledge clusters into competitive strengths.    He focused on how to build knowledge strategies and industry clusters to increase regional productivity, innovation and competitiveness while helping our communities to be more resilient.

Genoff’s distillation of the regional economy identified a number of economic development opportunities that could be secured by nurturing several knowledge clusters spanning industry and the university and utilising upgraded local infrastructure. The Wellcamp Airport, Toowoomba Range By-Pass, and the National Broadband Network are just several critical enablers identified as catalysts to further major regional investment, especially in agribusiness and food-processing, transportation logistics, construction, tourism and human services including fields as diverse as education and aged care.

Industry and business are crucial but not the only vehicles of innovation for becoming a leading resilient region and the second half of the three day min-summit emphasise more the contribution to be made by groups, communities, and local government. 

This part was anchored by American community visioning and engagement expert, Stephen Ames who is visiting Queensland as a strategic adviser to the State Governments 30 Year Queensland Plan.

In two workshops and a breakfast roundtable with regional leaders, Ames focused on the role of leadership and community innovation in accelerating vision and plans into healthy, vibrant communities and into sustainable development.

He led a representative grouping from local government, industry and community organisations to an early realisation of the need for the people of Toowoomba and adjoining regional communities to be consulted thoroughly on issues of regional vision and branding.  Importantly, Ames reminded government and business that the regional vision had to authentically derive of the community if it was to have utility. 

The three day mini-summit was structured to emphasise the importance of collaboration between all sections of our regional economy and community acting on a shared vision for the future and while recognising that experience and insights can be drawn from around the world, understanding that the solutions and the opportunities are unique to our regions.

For USQ the mini-summit will help focus our education and research and assist in building regionally based project partnerships.  It is the first major initiative of the newly formed Institute for Resilient Regions which, once its foundation program of work is finalised, will be ready for launch in early 2014.

Author: Professor John Cole OAM

Professor Emeritus and founder of the Institute for Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland and Honorary Professor, UQ Business School, The University of Queensland.

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