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Demographer Bernard Salt explores Port Macquarie’s ingredients for growth

The last time demographer Bernard Salt AM visited Port Macquarie it was 17 years ago and you could buy a four-bedroom house near the beach for $250,000 – fast forward to 2018 and that’s not all that’s changed.

“It was a retirement community and the people at the time, as I recall, would happily refer to Port Macquarie as God’s waiting room, and it was done with a smile but it was also accurate at that time,” Salt remembers.

Speaking at the Port Macquarie Chamber of Commerce boardroom luncheon on Wednesday 26 September, the managing director of The Demographics Group said the regional city was almost unrecognisable.

“The town has changed completely, not only is it much bigger, but in my cook’s tour of the town there were traffic jams, or what I regarded as traffic jams, and even just looking out on to the street going through the CBD, what I noted immediately was that this place has youthified.”

Salt believes the community is “normalising” thanks in part to our Charles Sturt University campus and teaching hospital.

Port Macquarie is already home to some of the ingredients listed on Salt’s smorgasbord for growth, including the soon to be upgraded airport, a university, hospitals, aged care facilities and our café culture.

He encouraged the development of a research institute, potentially a medical institute to complement Port Macquarie’s expanding health care industry, and highlighted the need for local entrepreneurs, local media, a national event and affordable housing to help continue the trajectory.

“I think people want a diverse, engaged, energetic place of opportunity where people can remain after secondary school and pursue a career, and that seems to be where Port Macquarie is heading now.”

The 30th largest city in Australia, Port Macquarie is performing well. Our LGA is now home to almost 80,000 people with almost 47,000 belonging to the tighter urban centre, and over the past decade Port Macquarie’s population grew by 16%.

The wider Mid North Coast added 30,000 jobs between the years 2000 and 2018 and shed only 2,000 jobs.

Salt believes Port Macquarie is a city in the firing line of growth.

He also identified the great baby boomer opportunity, explaining retirees want to downsize and will create a lifestyle shift in search of a healthy, connected, meaningful life.

“And the narrative for baby boomers is not to say come to Port Macquarie because there’s lots of health stuff, so when you have a heart attack we’re going to take care of you, that just reminds baby boomers that they’re mortal and they’re going to die or get sick, they don’t want to hear that, what they want to hear is ‘come to Port Macquarie because it has the best wellness and wellbeing lifestyle’.

“One of the great challenges will be how do I remain connected to my kids in Sydney or whatever, and this is where I feel the airport upgrade is critical… If you think, we’ve got a fantastic new airport, it has direct flights to Sydney and Brisbane… I would feel less cut off from family and would feel more comfortable about that decision to move.”

Salt said the best thing any community can do is develop a clear vision and aspirational narrative for 2030 and even 2050.

“It just needs to communicate with someone very easily and simply here is the essence of the story… Can mum and dad read this? Do they understand it? Are they engaged by it? Do they think that sounds really good? I want you to sell me on this place as to why I should hang around and invest in it. From what I’ve seen you can actually build a really positive story about the quality of life you can have here.”

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