“Mini-boom” shows early signs in Karratha

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Rio Tinto staff at the port facilities on East Intercourse Island, Dampier.
Camera IconRio Tinto staff at the port facilities on East Intercourse Island, Dampier. Credit: Pilbara News, Tom Zaunmayr

The Pilbara needs to start preparing for significant economic growth with a rapidly tightening property market, rising population and diversifying economy already manifesting as early signs of an upswing, according to a report being prepared for the State Government.

An economic overview of the Pilbara to inform the Government of issues and opportunities before the expected “mini-boom” in the resources industry takes off showed in Karratha, signs of strain were already starting to be felt, it was revealed at a business breakfast in the town last Wednesday.

Presenter and Pilbara Development Commission manager of strategy and knowledge Michael Heap said the data showed overall property availability in Karratha had plunged to a level lower than during the peak of the mining boom and was approaching record levels, when “these (major) projects ... haven’t even started yet”.

He also said school enrolments at the town’s only public high school were estimated to skyrocket by more than 60 per cent in a decade, and at the same time a host of planned projects in sectors including aquaculture, tourism and renewable energy were poised to diversify the local economy.

Mr Heap said the report was designed to ensure “everyone was on the same page” to understand the issues that arose last time and what needed to be done to ensure they didn’t happen again, as well as opportunities to be capitalised on.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to prepare,” he said.

Karratha and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Tanya Dodd said local businesses “across the board” had started reporting staffing issues consistent with economic growth.

“The key sign to me is the staff shortages, of people just struggling at the moment because their businesses are growing and they’re now struggling to get the staff,” she said.

“We need more residential workers full stop, because it goes from your baristas to your boiler markers to truck drivers — there’s such a diverse range of jobs out there that we need to fill the spaces in.”

A City of Karratha spokeswoman said the property market rebound, growth in school enrolments, and economic diversification were largely positive signs.

She also noted there were still “many vacant rental properties” within the city area.

“We are in a strong position to grow, thanks to efforts to diversify our local economy and nurture the emergence of sustainable industries to minimise the impact of fluctuations in the resources sector,” she said.

The overview, which began in June, is due to be submitted to the Government within days.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails