Warrnambool's economy is strong and new data has revealed some surprising trends. RACHAEL HOULIHAN explores the money trail.
Some may find it hard to believe but the numbers don’t lie – retail spending increased when Warrnambool’s Liebig Street was a construction zone.
New data revealed spending jumped by $48 million during stage one of the city centre renewal works compared with the same time in 2016-17.
Warrnambool City Council is using Spendmapp, which tracks actual expense transactions by location, time and industry.
Economic development manager Shaun Miller said Spendmapp provided anonymous and aggregated electronic transactions data from a major Australian bank.
Data shows the total cumulative spend in Warrnambool between July 2016 to February 2017 was almost $561 million. The spend jumped to $609 million during the same time period in 2017-18 while the CBD redevelopment was under way.
The growth in spending occurred across all months. Mr Miller said the new statistics confirmed other positive signs of economic growth that the council had been monitoring.
“We do a business survey which came back with really positive results, we do pedestrian counts which were showing really strong information that people in winter were still visiting the city in good numbers and we had the $1 million promotion last year, which captured a small proportion of transaction data which was very interesting,” he said.
He said the city was performing well economically, with new investors coming to Warrnambool. Early Settlers, Bonds, Axis Employment, Sheridan, Southern Country, Beacon Lighting and Gazman are either setting up shop or already trading.
“This data confirms a broader picture of the state of the city,” he said. “It’s new information for local governments to have this type of data, but retailers have been using it to confirm investment decisions for years. On the back of companies like Bonds and Sheridan investing here, it all points in the right direction that there is great things happening in the city and there is a reason to get on board with it.”
Mr Miller said he understood some businesses were affected during the city centre renewal works.
“I don’t expect everybody to be seeing the same results the data presents, but that is exactly where we want to make sure we provide support,” he said. “The economic development unit provides a range of different services. If you are having certain challenges maybe there are current services we provide businesses can engage with, or we can improve the services we provide and make sure we are getting the extra resources to help.”
He said support could include mentoring, small business workshops, advice on marketing and boosting international trade, especially within the Chinese market.
“There’s a lot of current services provided that people aren’t engaged with,” he said. “If there’s gaps in the offering I really encourage having that conversation.”
New burger kings doing a roaring trade
Taking a punt on a new eatery in the city’s main street while renewal works were ongoing has paid off for Two Kings Burgers.
Owner Travis Owen said he was not afraid to set up shop while the CBD redevelopment was under way.
Mr Owen said business had been booming over the summer months, and had recorded a slight drop-off over winter.
“We don’t know if that’s due to the works, or due to the colder weather,” he said. “This is our first winter. We knew the works were coming, but it didn’t deter us.”
He said Liebig Street had been an ideal spot to set up business.
He said trade came from people at the Lighthouse Theatre attending concerts or shows, South West TAFE and visitors to the Lake Pertobe precinct who came up to the bottom of Liebig Street. Mr Owen said the business was savvy on social media, and had initiated a mobile phone app for customers to order from.
“People can order and then run in and grab their meal,” he said. “That has been great for us, it’s been huge.”
Mr Owen was positive about the CBD redevelopment.
“The renewal will work well for us,” he said. “We are putting in two eight-people tables out the front of the shop. That will triple our seating.”
He said traders in the dining precinct were working together and supporting each other during the streetscape works. “Not all the traders are unhappy about the works,” he said. “When it is done it will be great.”
Tracking city’s economy
Warrnambool’s growth is trending upwards, and will be closely tracked across the next 12 months Mr Miller says.
“The information we are getting presents a really good overview of positivity today,” he said. “It might not be positivity in 12 months’ time, but at least we will have that information more accurately available to empower decision making and lobbying for further funds. As the city sits right now, as a whole, Warrnambool is in a great place.”
The cost to the city council for the Spendmapp service is $10,000 per annum which is funded from the economic development unit’s budget.
“As an early adopter of the data service Warrnambool City Council received a discounted rate well below those rates advertised on the Spendmapp website,” Mr Miller said.
“One of the key roles of council’s economic development branch is to provide evidenced-based data to inform decision making by investors and businesses, and to also communicate to our community, tiers of government and funding bodies how our economy is performing.
“Data products such as Spendmapp also serve as an important measurement tool to assist the development of funding applications, and reporting to funding bodies, for example state and federal governments and philanthropic trusts.”
He said the council had to report on the success of the project on the back of city renewal.
“Spendmapp provides a very affordable approach in collecting the data,” he said. “There is no need for a complex theory models. More importantly, the analysis is very accurate, so it gives an actual record of expenditure and location. We can see how many people visit and how much they spend.”
Mr Miller said the data did not drill down into individual identity or personal data.
Spendmapp complies with Australian Privacy Law and companies across Australia utilise its data. Only anonymous and de-identified data can be uploaded or exchanged on its technology platform. It is broadly presented in three forms – city-wide and in two geography levels, north and south Warrnambool.
Mr Miller said the data presented strong signs both the CBD and Gateway Plaza were doing well.
“People aren’t leaving the CBD to go to Gateway or vice versa,” he said.
“They present very, very different products and experiences. Both do equally as well because of that.”
It categorises spending into 13 industry groups. The 2017-18 data showed there was a 16 per cent, or $12 million increase, in spending in the dining and entertainment sector. Spending on bulky goods such as furniture and white goods also increased by $4 million.