Cool new Sunshine Coast will have it all

Wed, 12th Apr 2017

Leading demographer Bernard Salt has produced a new report detailing how the Sunshine Coast will look in 2040.  He has been watching the Coast grow for decades and has a highly optimistic view on our future commercial prosperity and cultural identity. WORDS: Roxanne McCarty-O’Kane.

Imagine a city where footloose businesses are thriving and a wave of entrepreneurial ‘hipsters’ are attracted to the strength of a flourishing region to launch their innovative startups. 

A city where established industry leaders move in to expand their growing empires and the influx of people, who wish to live a healthy lifestyle, fuels the cutural, artistic and sporting  spheres and creates an enviable work and lifestyle balance.

According to renowned demographer Bernard Salt, this is what the Sunshine Coast will look like in just over two decades.

Salt’s report, The Activated City: Imagining the Sunshine Coast in 2040, found 550,000 people will be living in the region and it will become the home of nimble businesses, tech-savvy Millennials and young families in a major transformation set to reinvent the leisurely seaside image that has been the Coast trademark for decades.

The report was commissioned by SunCentral which is driving the construction of the new CBD on a 53-hectare greenfield site in the heart of Maroochydore.

But far from being an outsider looking in, Melbourne-based Salt has been a regular on the Coast since the mid-1980s. 

“The results will be a Sunshine Coast that is not just bigger, but also younger, more highly educated and entrepreneurial”

“I have been interested in the Sunshine Coast for pretty much all of my career,” he says. “My first time travelling interstate for business was in 1985, when I was commissioned to do a feasibility study into demographics for the Sunshine Plaza before it was developed.

“I have been coming back to the Sunshine Coast throughout the years and have worked from Caloundra, Maroochydore, Coolum and Noosa, so I am very familiar with the suburbs and how the demographics have changed over the years.

“My wife and I often spend a weekend at Noosa, along with half of Melbourne I’m sure, and we have been holidaying there with the kids for more than 10 years.”

Salt says the Sunshine Coast has really come into its own in the past decade and is now positioning itself to reap the rewards of a more connected community.

“To be blunt, 20 to 30 years ago the Sunshine Coast was quite straggly. It was a spindly collection of villages loosely connected by the Bruce Highway, the David Low Way, and the Nicklin Way. It has now filled out, densified and got critical mass and has some real form to it,” he says.

Salt says the establishment of the University of the Sunshine Coast two decades ago was a “game changer” for the region and there has been further activation with the Sunshine Coast University Hospital now operational and the planned expansion of the Sunshine Coast Airport set to open the region up to Asian markets from 2020.

He says the final piece of the puzzle is the new CBD, which will generate significant economic and social shifts.

“In a lifestyle city like the Sunshine Coast, business districts can grow in a haphazard way and cause infighting between suburbs over who has dominance. But the beauty of SunCentral’s new Maroochydore CBD is that it is clearly defined and you can reimagine the space from scratch,” he says.

“It is a tremendous opportunity and it will unlock the Sunshine Coast and fuse it together. SunCentral is one of the most exciting, boldest projects I’ve seen in regional Australia, and it’s the right thing for the Coast. You can imagine the best hotels, the best streetscapes and when you put all of that together, there will be a rise of innovation and small business.”

Salt says the Coast will distinguish itself from other cities of its size and by the sheer volume of small businesses it has. 

“It imbues the Coast with an entrepreneurial, independently-minded spirit,” he says.

“Sunshine Coasters are not ‘me too’ people, everyone’s got an opinion and that’s terrific. The region will harness that to create and grow the businesses of the future, which will be as diverse as construction, leisure business and hotels, health and lifestyle and technology.

“As the Coast gets bigger, we will not see more of the same. There will be an articulated culture, not just retirees, commuters and lifestylers.”

Salt says a hipster culture will be fuelled by young people in their 20s and 30s, who move to the region as they become disenchanted with Sydney’s unaffordability and they seek a lifestyle location to begin their careers or start up new businesses.

“The results will be a Sunshine Coast that is not just bigger, but also younger, more highly educated and entrepreneurial.”

Salt says businesses that can operate from any location will be attracted by the technology, lifestyle, cost and connectivity, while university-educated Millennials will team up with “second generation CEOs”, baby boomers who have retired to the Coast to kick off new businesses. 

In turn, this will see more parents investing in the community, safe in the knowledge their children will not be forced to move to pursue their chosen careers.

Despite the overall positive way in which he paints the future of the Coast, Salt says he has no doubts there will be challenges.

“We are a young country and a growing country and all of that is epitomised on the Sunshine Coast, but overall the foundations are being laid to allow corporates, national and international, to establish a substantial office presence in a lifestyle location in a campus-style office, which is pretty much the way they do things in Silicon Valley,  with all the amenity of a CBD that is minutes away from an international airport, minutes away from the beach, the university, the billion-dollar hospital and hopefully all of this will be threaded together with light rail.”

To maintain the predicted growth from 350,000 residents to 550,000 by 2040, the Coast will have to build the equivalent of a new suburb every 14 months and a new school every two years, as well as keep abreast with new infrastructure.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson says the region is up to the challenge.

“We have always taken the view that we will shape the future, not simply react to it,” he says.

“Our Regional Economic Development Strategy sets out a bold but achievable plan to build a $33 billion economy by 2033, with 100,000 new jobs in high-value industries and household incomes above the Queensland average. 

“The creation of an entirely new CBD is one of the ways in which we are setting this new course for the Coast. Bernard Salt describes the new CBD as the ‘missing link’ that will transform the Coast and deliver jobs and growth for decades to come. He is absolutely right.”

A City Centre for the future with SunCentral CEO John Knaggs

The Maroochydore City Centre project is certainly helping to drive strong national and international interest in the Sunshine Coast.

The development scheme for the new CBD allows for 150,000 square metres of prime commercial office space, 65,000 square metres of new retail stores and dining venues and 2000 apartments, with approximately 40 per cent of the 53-hectare site to be parks, plazas and waterways.

SunCentral Maroochydore was established to oversee design and delivery of the new city centre and since expressions of interest for lots in the core CBD precincts opened last year, we’ve received many exciting responses from the private sector. 

We are currently considering submissions for Stage One, proposing commercial and mixed use building projects with a construction cost of over $400 million and look forward to successful contract announcements in coming months.

The new city centre’s potential and unique features, such as Australia’s first CBD-wide underground automated waste collection system, combined with other significant projects including the Sunshine Coast Airport expansion and $1.8-billion Sunshine Coast University Hospital, has raised the region’s profile.

The Sunshine Coast is now widely recognised as a growing economic powerhouse and property hotspot, and Australia’s business community is clearly backing the vision for the new Maroochydore CBD.

Fostering economic growth is a key aim of the Maroochydore City Centre project, which will create more than 15,000 jobs and inject an estimated $4.4 billion into the local economy.

The Sunshine Coast is coming of age and the great foundations we lay now will ensure our CBD becomes an exceptional place for residents, workers and visitors to enjoy for many years to come.

Bernard Salt’s 2040 predictions for the Sunshine Coast

• A huge increase in population from around 350,000 today to 550,000 in 2040, with young families and children among the fastest-growing demographic groups.

• An influx of ‘footloose’ businesses able to relocate thanks to technological change and attracted by the Sunshine Coast’s enviable lifestyle and environment.

• A diversification of the economy into sectors including technology, aviation, renewable energy and professional services.

• New flight connections with major Asian-Pacific cities, which will boost exports, increase tourism and drive the growth of high-quality education and health services.

• Growth of the already strong entrepreneurial sector, driven by ‘Second Generation CEOs’ – baby-boomer retirees still keen to put their money and skills to work.

• An increase in ‘knowledge workers’ and tech-savvy young people, attracted by higher education expansion and the emergence of new startups.

• The subsequent rise of a thriving ‘hipster’ culture and the emergence of the Sunshine Coast as a significant artistic and cultural hub.

Source: The Activated City: Imagining the Sunshine Coast in 2040

You can read the full report at