URBANISM: The pandemic has put a plug in South Australia’s “brain drain” and is giving Adelaide a chance to reinvent its image as a hub for quality jobs, better lifestyle and world-class business opportunities
As the eastern states struggle with rolling lockdowns and disruptions caused by COVID-19, for South Australia the pandemic may ultimately prove more of an opportunity than a crisis.
Property Council South Australia executive director Daniel Gannon says the state is seeing a surge of interest from outsiders, both individuals and businesses who have spied the greener grass across the border.
“Adelaide during Covid has actually I think become a net beneficiary in so many different ways whether it’s investment attractiveness or lifestyle attractiveness,” Gannon said.
For the first time in almost 30 years South Australia’s interstate migration numbers have been a net positive for more than 12 months.
While in total that is only a few hundred extra people, it is in contrast to the thousands of youngsters and others who generally depart the state each year in search of better jobs and the excitement of larger cities.
Earlier this year, The Economist ranked Adelaide as Australia’s most liveable city and third overall in the world, behind Auckland and Osaka, with its success in suppressing Covid playing a central role in the ranking.
However, Gannon said Adelaide’s changing reputation was based on more than just its virus suppression tactics.
“There have been a few instances in recent times that have essentially just helped to paint a far more attractive and competitive picture of Adelaide,” Gannon said.
Property prices are one major factor
Despite a recent increase in house prices, residential and commercial properties in Adelaide still provide significantly more bang for buck than in the major cities.
Gannon pointed to increases to stamp duty and land tax in the most recent Victorian state budget. “If you were to purchase a $5 million commercial property in Victoria you would now be paying 308 per cent more for the same price property in South Australia.”
On the residential side, house prices in Adelaide recently reached a median value of $510,000, partly due to increased interstate interest during Covid. At the same time buyers in larger cities are paying well over a million on average.
Gannon believes changes to working habits such as more flexibility and work from home arrangements, are eliminating barriers for many to take advantage of these substantial savings on property.
“In really simple terms, I think the Adelaide value proposition makes more sense now than it ever has and that’s coming off the back of a global pandemic,” Gannon said.
Like elsewhere in Australia, developers have also been taking advantage of record low interest rates and other support measures, to push forward with major projects.
These include Charter Hall’s $450 million dollar new King William Street offices, a $1 billion redevelopment of Festival Plaza by The Walker Corporation, ICD Property’s $400 million upgrade of Adelaide’s Central Market and a $300 million undertaking by Multiplex to deliver Cbus Property’s new CBD offices in Pirie Street.
“Throughout the pandemic Adelaide has actually attracted an incredible amount of investors and investment despite the ongoing uncertainty,” Gannon said.
“So clearly if investors like Charter Hall are flocking to Adelaide and doubling down on their investment, they must see some strengths in our market.”
Adelaide Sustainable Building Network
When it comes to sustainability, Adelaide is no backwater either, boasting 100 per cent renewable energy in its electricity grid at certain times.
Chairperson of the Adelaide Sustainable Building Network (ASBN), Ken Long, has been at the head of the volunteer-run not-for-profit since a year after it was formed a decade ago.
As well as advocating for better building practices, the ASBN hosts multidisciplinary discussions to increase collaboration and understanding across the industry.
“We’ve kind of developed a local community to be able to talk about these various topics,” said Long, who also works as a sustainability consultant with global engineering firm, Mott MacDonald.
Long said there was broad support and understanding of the importance of sustainable buildings and that government organisations such as Renewal SA were willing to go beyond the national benchmarks in order to set an example for the broader industry.
The state is therefore also positioned as a solid option for businesses looking to go green, with access to renewable energy and the benefits of being based in a low-carbon locale.
“With renewable energy actually being the cheapest form of electricity now compared to a lot of fossil fuel generation you actually have a double win that you’re not only reducing your greenhouse gas emissions with your operations, you’re saving a lot of money,” Long said.
Future industry innovation hubs
Despite the opportunities before it, South Australia still registers the highest unemployment rate in the country. A fact that will have to change if the brain drain stemming continues beyond the pandemic.
Two prime examples of how the government is trying to increase not just the number but the quality of available jobs, are the Tonsley and Lot Fourteen developments.
Tonsley is a major advanced manufacturing hub, located on the 61-hectare former Mitsubishi factory, that now acts as home to startups, manufacturing businesses and other innovators, which Gannon described as an “ideal microcosm of South Australia’s future economy”.
Similarly, Lot Fourteen in the city CBD is another innovation hub aimed at providing the room and facilities for a range of different business types across space, defence, hi-tech industries and more.
“What we now need to do is capitalise on the reversal of the brain drain, we need to capitalise on an increased profile of our city and on this great opportunity,” Gannon said.
Long added that on the back of government will, the innovation hubs were also well advanced across sustainability measures including energy efficiency, water sensitive urban design, improvement of green amenities and occupant wellness.
Like many areas, during COVID-19, South Australia has seen a renewed focus on the importance of prioritising human health and quality of life in designing the built environment.
“It’s been nice that we’re already connecting economic opportunities to better environmental outcomes, whether that’s in nature or human built environments, and that also leads into better outcomes for people,” Long said.
“All that helps reinforce that South Australia is a pretty nice place, not only to be, but to invest in and thrive in.”