Located on the eastern coast of Queensland, Mackay is a city on the rise. With a population of over 166,000 and growing, Mackay is popularly known as the “sugar capital” of Australia, as the region produces more than a third of the country’s cane sugar. The city also acts as the gateway to the single largest coal reserve in Australia, with mining being recognised as a mainstay of the local economy.
On the backs of those industries and more, Mackay is currently celebrating their 150th year anniversary (or sesquicentenary). They’re looking forward to the next 150 years.
A plethora of factors make Mackay stand out from the rest of Australia, and even the rest of the world. Mayor Dierdre Comerford lists the near perfect year-round climate, the friendly and welcoming people, and the thriving business marketplace just off the top of her head.
Tourism is the third largest component of Mackay’s economy, behind mining and sugar. Ideally located among endless sandy beaches, lush tropical rainforest and golden hinterland, the Mackay-Isaac Region can provide a tourism experience to suit every taste, budget and interest.
Unique among the Mackay Region’s tourism opportunities is the Sarina Sugar Shed, Australia’s only fully operational miniature sugar-processing mill and distillery. The Sarina Sugar Shed offers a whole factory tour under one roof, complete with a demonstration of how rum is made, as well as a complimentary taste or two.
The urban landscape of Mackay is also vibrant and teeming with dining and arts. They have a world class art gallery, and an outstanding collection of Art Deco architecture constructed early in the 20th century.
A welcoming city
Mayor Comerford, who was raised on a cane farm near Eton, has lived in the Mackay Region all her life. She says the best reason to settle down and live in Mackay is its people, whom she credits as being among of the friendliest in the world. She recalls an event where she spoke to a doctor from America who had recently moved to the city. When the doctor told a bank teller her story, the teller invited her over to her house to watch football.
“She was amazed,” Mayor Comerford says. “But that kind of thing happens all the time here.”
In October, the Mackay community will host the region’s first “Baby Welcoming Ceremony,” Mayor Comerford says, citing it as another example of their phenomenally welcoming attitude. It will provide residents an opportunity to “publicly welcome and celebrate our region’s newest residents.”
It’s an innovative event, and Mayor Comerford is not unaware of the challenges a large amount of babies in one place could pose. “An aide recently told me ‘You know you’ve opened a can of worms, right?’ I said ‘I know, and bring it on.’”
Another good reason to come to Mackay is their employment opportunities – their rates are some of the lowest in Queensland. “If you’re looking for work, there is work to be found,” Mayor Comerford says.
Sustainable living and learning
Developing sustainably is an important focus of the Mackay Council, and Mayor Comerford says the issue is considered in everything they do. Their most significant contribution to the cause, however, is their efforts to educate residents. Ecomackay.com.au, developed in conjunction with the Natural Strategies Group, is designed to help Mackay regional residents take action to live more sustainably at home and in the community.
The ecoMackay website provides ideas, tips and inspiration to citizens about how to live more sustainably, and make small, easy changes that will have a positive impact on your health and wellbeing. They also help residents save money. The information provided is on everything from food and drink to gardening to transportation – for example, one-quarter of all car trips are less than three kilometres, and to ride a bike the same distance uses less than one-fiftieth of the energy required to drive.
The ecoMackay site is all about helping people make simple and practical changes to their lifestyle which will reduce their ecological footprint. With ‘myfootprint,’ the website’s unique ecological footprint calculator, users can even see the ecological and financial savings of their actions and come up with a personal action plan to live more sustainably and save money over time. It also allows users to connect and share their efforts with other like-minded households in their area.
Innovative and visionary
Mackay as a business destination is every bit as attractive as Mackay as a tourism location – and currently, 80 per cent of the region’s tourism is corporate in nature. Mayor Comerford credits that fact to the recent mining boom, but says there’s no reason it should not continue. They are growing at a very fast rate, and have the resources at the ready to support business.
One such resource is the Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre (MECC), located in the heart of the city and just a short walk away from a number of restaurants, hotels, and shopping precincts. The MECC provides diverse theatrical entertainment and superior event facilities and services to Mackay and its surrounding communities, and has a stated mission of ensuring the MacKay region is renowned for its creativity and engagement with the arts, as well as recognised as a premium provider of conference and exposition facilities.
Another resource is Mackay’s TAFE school, to which Mayor Comerford offers nothing but high praise. When there is a local business need – to up-skill managers, for example – that school “mobilises quickly, comes up with a course, teachers, and fills their classrooms.”
There’s also Canelands Central, now the largest shopping centre outside of the south east corner due to a $235 million redevelopment, which was completed in October 2011. The Centre, which created 800 jobs for people in the Region, now includes 230 stores and is 65,000 square metres in size.
Moving forward, Mayor Comerford says the city’s main priority has to keep pursuing projects like Canelands, while also keeping up with infrastructure needs. Mackay is growing very quickly, and the Mayor expects their population to reach 200,000 in the next 20 years. That growth is a positive most ways you spin it, but does come with a set of challenges – all of which the Council is eager to tackle.
One of those central challenges posed to Mackay is providing the necessary amount of accommodation. Because the city is growing very fast, it is having some trouble keeping up with housing demands. Greg Martin is a councillor whose portfolio of responsibility includes tourism and economic development. He says that banks are hesitant to lend, which makes it hard to get housing developments off the ground. At the same time, he says, the issue is more of an opportunity than a challenge. “It’d be a challenge if it was the other way around.”
Looking to the longer term future, Mayor Comerford has high hopes and expectations for Mackay. “We aim for our region to offer a great lifestyle, plenty of opportunities and be prosperous,” she says. “In order to achieve this Council needs to ensure land use planning and infrastructure planning keeps pace with growth. Now more than ever Council needs to be innovative and visionary. To do this we need to engage well with community, business and industry sector stakeholders.”