Three Hunter projects with the capacity to generate billions of dollars and create more than 20,000 new jobs have been identified as priorities for federal government support over the next 12 months.
The projects - a container terminal, the Newcastle Airport runway upgrade and the University of Newcastle STEMM centre - are considered to have the greatest potential to build the foundations for long-term economic diversification and help the region and the nation recover from the coronavirus.
"We are not asking for a handout, we are asking for a partnership arrangement because all three of these projects have significant capital on the table. We are asking the federal government to partner to accelerate them," Committee for the Hunter chief executive Alice Thompson said.
"These projects align with federal priorities but will really underwrite our sustainability into the future and support our economy to diversify in the long-term, which will make this region more resilient in the face of future shocks."
The Committee for the Hunter worked with peak business and industry bodies and the region's 10 councils to present, for the first time, a unified voice for the region's priorities.
While the projects will generate major regional, state and national economic benefits, they will also create significant study, employment and lifestyle opportunities for future generations of Hunter residents.
"Everyone hopes their kids to be able to go to university in Newcastle," mother of three Lauren Kendall said.
"The STEMM project would really set our uni apart. It will create more employment opportunities and help address challenges within the energy, transport and sustainability sectors."
Ms Kendall said upgrading the Newcastle Airport runway to an international standard would not only be a major benefit for Hunter residents, but it would also make the region far more attractive to visitors.
"[Travelling to Sydney Airport] adds about eight hours to your day, not to mention a whole lot of stress. It would make such a difference to be able to fly directly from Newcastle. Anyone who has tried to travel with three kids and five sets of luggage knows what I'm talking about," Ms Kendall said.
"This region has so much to offer. I have no doubt that we would attract thousands more international tourists if they could fly directly into Newcastle."
Newcastle-based software engineer Martin Gloorsaid the creation of a container terminal was a logical step in the region's evolution.
"Regardless of how long coal continues to be part of our economy, we need to be actively looking to transition towards other economic income streams," he said.
"We already have the port infrastructure, expanding into containers is a logical way to go."
In addition to tourism, Mr Gloor said making Newcastle accessible to international aircraft would increase opportunities for global commerce.
"My business is based in Newcastle but I have clients around the world. To be able to fly from Newcastle to Singapore and then to Europe would be very attractive for a lot of business operators," he said.
It is hoped October's federal budget will provide $65million for the upgrade of Newcastle Airport's runway to a standard required for international aviation (Code E).
The figure represents 1.2 per cent of the cost of the new Western Sydney Airport project.
It is estimated the project would create 4500 jobs and generate $12.7 billion in economic benefits through international airfreight, industrial expansion and increased tourism traffic over the next two decades.
The time sensitive project needs to coincide with a $120million Department of Defence maintenance and remediation project at the Williamtown RAAF base, which is due to take place next year.
"As Australia's largest regional economy, the Hunter will help lead the nation's economic recovery," Newcastle Airport chief executive Peter Cock said.
"With the challenge of a daunting economic recovery post COVID-19 ahead of us, this is a once in a generation opportunity that we are urging governments to seize."
The University of Newcastle is also seeking a Commonwealth investment in the $207million STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) Regional Transformation Hub, the largest capital investment undertaken at the institution.
Up to 2,100 jobs will be created during construction, which is scheduled to begin following planning approvals.
The 17,270 square metre facility will accommodate 2,300 staff, students, researchers and industry partners.
"STEMM skills power global economies into the future by underpinning emerging knowledge industries like advanced manufacturing," Vice-Chancellor Alex Zelinsky said.
"These skills also drive Australia's competitive advantage in established industries like agriculture, healthcare and resources.This investment will reinforce our place on the research and education world stage."
The Port of Newcastle is also seeking federal government support for its push to lift state government penalties imposed on container movements at the port.
The $1.8 billion project will generate more than 15,000 direct and indirect jobs and contribute $2.5 billion to the national economy.
"The Newcastle Multi-Purpose Deepwater Terminal,to be entirely funded by private investors, will deliver more jobs in regional NSW, a reduction in road and rail movements in and out of Sydney, and cheaper freight costs for importers and exporters across the state," Port of Newcastle chief executive Craig Carmodysaid.
Ms Thompson said each of the three projects were ideally placed to help spearhead the Hunter's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The pandemic has wiped out four years of employment growth; job creation here and across Australia is an imperative. This (federal) budget is going to set out that path to economic recovery and we are saying we (the Hunter Region) are ready to partner with and boost the jobs growth at the speed and the scale that this crisis calls for," she said.
This (federal) budget is going to set out that path to economic recovery and we are saying we (the Committee for the Hunter) are ready to partner with and boost the jobs growth at the speed and the scale that this crisis calls for," she said.Alice Thompson
Established in 2018, the Committee for the Hunter is an independent, non-partisan collaboration that brings together business, industry and community leaders with the goal of driving growth, prosperity and economic diversity in the Hunter.
It argues that the historic levels of government focus and investment have not reflected the region's size, strategic significance or economic contribution.
This, in turn, has come at a significant opportunity cost to the nation.
"For the first time we have got all the voices across the region to say 'these are the priorities right now for the federal government' it's not to say anything else isn't a priority but we have put a really sharp focus on what is really going to build that capacity and speed right now," Ms Thompson said.
"We are hoping we can make a difference in how the Hunter is perceived and considered and that starts with us within the region joining the dots and pushing out more strongly and collaborating rather than competing and providing a really strong message about what this region needs."
The Committee for the Hunter is also advocating for programs that support councils to deliver shovel-ready projects in local infrastructure and community facilities.
The projects aim to create local jobs and contracts while providing confidence to 'mum and dad' businesses of a sustained pipeline of work. Able to be rolled out quickly while providing dispersed benefits across communities and geographies, the council-led projects will complement investments in catalytic major projects.
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