The City of Ballarat recently invited renowned demographer and futurist Bernard Salt AM into our neighbourhood.
His keynote address to more than 200 business leaders and community members on "Ballarat into the future" has provided us with a fascinating and considered blueprint for harnessing potential.
This is a man who has helped build stronger regional communities.
When Bernard Salt identifies the need to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and make Ballarat an entrepreneurial hot spot, we are wise to listen closely.
Just down the road, Daylesford is considered an entrepreneurial hot spot, with 27 percent of people owning their own business, while the Ballarat rate of entrepreneurs is slightly lower than the Australian average of 15 per cent.
Bernard spoke to his audience about statistics and trends in population, demographics, business and industry.
He highlighted the strong position Ballarat has in terms of its economy and lifestyle. Importantly he also emphasised the opportunities we must harness to capture the younger population, to retain the existing workforce and to take advantage of the primarily knowledge-based industries.
Most people would agree that guiding people to be entrepreneurial starts in school.
Bernard refers to the younger population as millenniums. Most people would agree that guiding people to be entrepreneurial starts in school. Ballarat has a great track record of innovative programs to prepare students - millenniums - for the future workforce.
Secondary School programs are getting students to pitch business ideas that provide solutions to problems they are passionate about, then work with Ballarat businesses to develop those ideas.
Amongst this is a consensus that while traditional work skills are vital, soft skills are also key. Soft skills are things such as critical and innovative thinking.
These also need to be promoted in schools as a way for the future.
Ballarat is certainly blessed with its education facilities, including two Universities, with programs and courses constantly adapting to meet the demands of our changing workforce.
Other educational and business innovations include the Ballarat Tech School which is fostering students' connection with digital applications such as robotics.
The Flecknoe Building is becoming home to businesses that are approaching their duties with innovative models.
Both sites are indicators of a City and workforce that is changing.
Interestingly, Bernard's data revealed a spike in the number of people aged in their early-20s in Ballarat. They're here pursuing higher education. But also noted was the number who leave by their mid-20s.
So, the questions remain: How do we stop the bleed of graduates taking their knowledge to Melbourne and other capital cities, and what will encourage and enable young people to create and invest in business here, allowing a strong knowledge-based economy?
Salt's analysis predicted that Ballarat will be the 16th biggest city in Australia in 2054, with a population of 212,000. That is effectively a doubling of our size in 30 years.
Opportunity, population growth, support for start-up businesses, a diversified workforce, an attractive destination and a solid digital platform are all crucial elements that the council has been working for many years to achieve.
I know we're on the right track, but like Bernard, I do believe that everyone needs to play a part.
In May this year, Start Up Ballarat participant Julie O'Donohue had the chance to pitch her business Next Address to a range of Chinese venture capitalists during a City of Ballarat delegation. On that trip with Julie, was Deputy Mayor Cr Jim Rinaldi. At that time, he expressed that it was a brilliant opportunity for a business prepared to take a new entrepreneurial approach. But what he also noted was that it positioned Ballarat as a regional Victorian innovation leader, supporting local entrepreneurs and technology businesses to access Chinese investment and export opportunities.
These are the sort of opportunities we need to provide if we are to nurture and build the entrepreneurial culture that is required to make us the next hot spot. Let's not waste this opportunity. If Bernard Salt wants an Australian version of Bill Gates by 2030, then let's make sure he or she is from Ballarat.