Brighter times ahead as city flourishes and comes into its own

“It feels like Ballarat, and this region is growing up,” Committee for Ballarat Chief Executive Officer, Melanie Robertson said.

Ms Robertson has been in Ballarat for 18 years and has been CEO of the Committee for Ballarat for the past two years.

She is one of many Ballarat community leaders echoing similar sentiments about the city’s bright outlook.

“It (the city) is starting to shake off its insecurities and take more pride in itself. There’s more of a belief that we have outstanding opportunities and that we deserve them,” Ms Robertson said.

Committee for Ballarat CEO Melanie Robertson.

Committee for Ballarat CEO Melanie Robertson.

“There’s a newfound belief in the city,” she said, citing the last two State budgets.

“They delivered great things for Ballarat and there has been great visioning and enthusiasm and passion and that has elevated our profile in manufacturing, transport and other sectors.”

“When asked what she would like to see ahead for the future of Ballarat, Ms Robertson listed better transport options, renewable energy projects, development that enhances inner city living and more input to create a vibrant arts and culture sector.

“We have been trying to envision what a better Ballarat looks like and I think connectivity is the key,” Ms Robertson said.

“Being connected in every sense … in practical terms, the 59-minute train journey to Melbourne is completely doable and we need better public transport options in and around the city.”

Ballarat Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Jodie Gillett, said in her 10 years in the role, she had seen the city grow and become more positive. 

"Our members are very positive about the future and businesses are incredibly busy at the moment,” Ms Gillett said.

There are 500 businesses that are members of the Chamber of Commerce and there was always a lot of productive discussion at the (Chamber) breakfasts, she said.

"We have had good reports from the real estate and commercial sectors and there is a lot of excitement around new developments in the CBD,” she said. 

“In the hospitality sector, restaurants and businesses are reporting that business is much more stable, possibly as a result of the Plate Up Ballarat and now we are going into the Winter Festival.”

In going forward, Ms Gillett said it was important that “businesses kept reviewing their practices,” and were open to learning from others.

Business owners say there has been significant growth and change in the last 10 years, citing the $518 million investment in regional rail and Government spending and support for infrastructure projects, which was “extremely encouraging”.

Property agent Peter Burley said there had been a lot of government investment in the city and there were some major manufacturing entities, including Mars Confectionary and McCain.

There were significant employers, including the Rural Ambulance, IBM, the State Revenue Office, the universities and the hospitals that also were continually reinvesting in the community.

“There’s still this thought process that Ballarat is a little country town but it has wonderful facilities, including one of the best regional hospitals in Victoria.”

“It interwines with that Melbourne influence of restaurants, cultural music festivals  …. every weekend there’s something on now,” he said.

While Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong have traditionally been compared to one another as major regional cities, each has their own strengths and Ballarat is coming into its own. 

Our members are very positive about the future and businesses are incredibly busy.

Ballarat Chamber of Commerce CEO Jodie Gillett.

Property agents agree Ballarat and region is still an affordable housing option. “It is still possible for those pushed out of the Melbourne to buy here,” Caine director, Damian Caine said.

Asked what would make Ballarat more of a destination – both for a resident and a businessman, he said:

“As a resident, we are always looking for more facilities, parks, healthcare and education ... if there’s money put into the universities, that would be a good thing.

“Students add to the flavour of the city and it grows the diversity.”

Mr Caine said currently, universities across the board, were put in a position where they were competing with one another for students and for funding.

“Students go where the money is and I don’t think the universities here have had an input of funding for some time.”

“It would be great to see a medical school, for long term where they started medicine here and went all the way through and were in some way bonded to a regional centre, that would keep the medical facilities doing well.

“A doctors’ life now is a business and it’s nine-to-five and they have lost that community touch. We need medicos as part of the community and if you develop the university, you would have more students coming here and they would stay.

“Education is not necessarily the panacea for everything but it certainly helps bring ideas.”

Mr Caine said, like many other community leaders, he would also like to see “less red tape in planning and development … that would progress the city.”

“There’s a lot of old property in Ballarat and there’s a sense that everything old should be saved, but in London you will see a centuries-old building next to a modern, architect-designed building. 

“We have some great architects in town and we should use them. From a business point of view that would help developers, keep people employed and generate more money in town,” he said.