The future growth and development of the Pilbara's economy will be underpinned by the region's ability to attract new businesses and investors to the region.
Projects aimed at reducing the cost of doing business – particularly logistics and freight and energy – will have significant benefits for the Pilbara economy.
Establishing a strong freight network will ensure the Pilbara's businesses and communities have reliable access to goods and services and will underpin the capacity to move goods and services efficiently into and around the region. The WA Regional Freight Transport Plan identified the completion of the Karratha-Tom Price Road as the top road infrastructure priority for the Pilbara. The State Government has committed to complete stage 3 of the road which will commence in September 2019.
The Commission has identified that the development of a direct shipping service into the region from Asia would dramatically reduce the cost of doing business in the Pilbara. The Commission is progressing a study into the opportunity of direct freight to quantify the impact on economic activity in the region.
The Pilbara was identified by the International Energy Agency as one of the top six locations in the world for developing large scale renewable energy projects. Developing a large-scale renewable energy industry would not only create new regional employment, but it has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of power creating a major competitive advantage for the region in attracting new projects and businesses.
A consistent and reliable energy supply is integral to regional areas, and investment in technology improvements such as microgrids, energy storage and renewable energy means it is becoming easier for remote and off-grid communities to look after their own energy needs, and drastically reduce the cost of doing business in the Pilbara.
With around $100 billion worth of projects under construction or under consideration in the Pilbara over the next ten years, maximising the value of the resources sector will be critical to the sustainable development of the region. The Pilbara Collaborative Charter, signed off by the Premier, the Minister for Regional Development and executives from major resource companies, will be vital to developing pathways to job creation, employment and training to ensure people living in the Pilbara benefit from the ongoing investment from industry. The State Government, through the WA Industry Link initiative, will play an important role in ensuring major construction projects benefit the residents and businesses in the Pilbara.
Diversification of the economy will be vital to securing a prosperous future for the Pilbara and WA. Tourism visitation continues to grow in the region, however destination marketing and tourism product are still underdeveloped. Similarly, the agriculture and aquaculture sectors both have significant opportunity for growth to capitalise on the region's natural assets. Arts and culture and mine repurposing are also emerging as key growth sectors for the region.
Access to land, for both residential and industrial uses, will continue to underpin the region's ability to grow. Many of the region's infrastructure assets are fragmented and in private ownership while much of the region's land is subject to native title. The future development of the Pilbara will hinge on the ability of government, industry and Traditional Owner groups to work collaboratively for shared gain.
The Pilbara continues to be an economic powerhouse for the state and national economies, producing $32.3 billion in Gross Regional Product (GRP) in 2018, which represents more than 40% of regional WA's total GRP. Unemployment in the Pilbara is around 2.9%, which is 3% below the state average, creating a tight job market resulting in challenges for small businesses to attract and retain staff.
The Pilbara's economy is dominated by the mining sector, which accounts for 68% of GRP and 45% of total jobs. The resource sector is showing signs of renewed confidence with more than $100 billion worth of projects either committed or under consideration for the Pilbara over the next ten years, creating more than 20,000 construction jobs and more than 8,000 operational jobs.
However, the lack of economic complexity in the region's economic make-up leaves Pilbara businesses and communities vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations and rising costs, making this one of the Pilbara's biggest challenges.
More than 60,000 people call the Pilbara home and on the surface the region is prosperous and wealthy with a low unemployment rate and high income. In recent years the Pilbara's communities have begun a transformation from mining towns to liveable cities, boasting high quality health and education services as well as modern community amenities.
Where once the population came and went with the cycle of the resource industries, nowadays more and more people are choosing to call the region home. The Pilbara has seen a 15% growth in population from 2008 to 2018, while at the same time a shift in demographics has seen young people making up an increasing portion of the population.
However, there is a hidden inequality in the region. Aboriginal people represent 14% of the Pilbara's population and on average they earn less than one third of non-Aboriginal residents and are six times more likely to be unemployed.
To unlock the true potential of the Pilbara we need to ensure all residents benefit from the region's wealth and that they receive the same level of opportunity, quality of life and access to services.