As we absorb the news from the Premier on Sunday, regional Victoria can be rightly proud of its response to the COVID challenge.

With case numbers significantly declining, regional Victorians will be looking forward to an easing of restrictions in the coming weeks and months.  With this in mind, our focus needs to be firmly on the opportunities of creating a regional economic ‘bubble’ and plan for businesses to start re-opening.

Prior to the lockdown, Geelong was growing faster than Melbourne with a population growth rate of 2.7 percent in the previous 12 months. With community concerns about density of living and the shift to working from home as a result of the pandemic, there have been numerous media reports and anecdotal evidence of increased enquiries from the Melbourne area to make the move to the Geelong region.

Geelong was already positioned for growth and now stands ready to welcome thousands more to our region. Part of the planning includes the large area between Little River and Fyansford – the Northern and Western Geelong Growth Areas – which has now been approved by the Victorian Government and the City of Greater Geelong to take another 110,000 people in the next 20-30 years. This population is equivalent to hosting Ballarat on our doorstep.

As part of our advocacy to the Victorian Government we are asking that this growth area and initial releases of land for residents be fast-tracked. This would create thousands of jobs and help meet the demand for regional living in our state. The Committee for Geelong is also working with the G21 Geelong Region Alliance to seek funding for an integrated regional transport plan. Working with the Department of Transport and local governments, this plan is essential to help guide us through the challenges of both freight and passenger transport networks in the region.

While this period of lockdown has been an extremely difficult time for Victoria, we now need to position our region for the future. The ‘brand’ of Geelong has never been more important, and we believe that as the restrictions ease, the competition for intra-regional investment and spending will be fierce. How we sell our region and highlight the benefits of regional living needs to be a focus.

The Committee for Geelong will be talking to stakeholders and government in the coming weeks regarding our new research ‘Resilient Geelong – Recipes for Success and Challenges for a Post COVID-19 Future’ conducted via Deakin University, which is due to be published late September. The resilience of our region has been shown through our ability to adapt over the short term following a shock and develop new growth paths over the longer term. The coronavirus looks set to persist until an effective vaccine is widely available, and in coming years outbreaks of other new viruses will remain a real and ongoing threat. To build a resilient region, we need to anticipate and plan for both ongoing risks and future shocks.

The Resilient Geelong story is one of a dynamic process of constant renewal. However, our current challenge is confronting and puts us all in unfamiliar territory. The aim is for this research to help provide an evidence base for actions and ideas for both social and economic recovery.

We believe that by working together in a non-partisan, collaborative manner and promoting our region for investment and growth, we will be well positioned to absorb this once-in-a-century shock.

Jennifer Cromarty

CEO, Committee for Geelong