IF YOU’RE waiting for the Gold Coast to mature economically, you might need to set aside another 20 years, according to demographer Bernard Salt.

And if you want to get a picture of what’s ahead, the KPMG partner says look to its US sister city of Fort Lauderdale.

“You can’t compare the Gold Coast with any other city in Australia,” says Salt, who this week addressed an event jointly hosted by Study Gold Coast and the Young Professionals.

Salt says the Coast is Australia’s “first fusion city” – a metropolis that has “added bits on”.

“The Gold Coast has a good product. The Australian people want a place like the Gold Coast to exist; there is a market for a lifestyle city.”

However, Salt warns that Gold Coasters need a “cultural shift” in the way they view their city if they want to avoid it losing its identity.

Salt says the risk is that the Gold Coast will become “an outer suburban blob that merges with Brisbane where you increasingly commute”.

“You become a dormant suburb, lose your identity and become an urban blancmange.”

Salt, a keen observer of the Gold Coast for years, says there is no other city on the Australian continent like it. Not even the Sunshine Coast comes close.

“It has evolved through retirement, lifestyle, tourism and building. Now it’s time to actually evolve that one step further.”

Salt says he has to turn to Fort Lauderdale in Florida to find another city that compares from a demographic point of view.

“I think Fort Lauderdale is 20 years ahead of the Gold Coast. It absolutely boomed in the 70s and 80s.”

Salt says that was when Fort Lauderdale developed its reputation as a party town, with the US Schoolies equivalent, known as Spring Break, playing havoc with the city’s image.

Salt says Fort Lauderdale took steps to change by luring major corporations to the city and diversifying its economy.

“Fort Lauderdale has stabilised now, and that’s where I think the Gold Coast will get to.

“It will probable become more stable and predictable in 20 to 30 years when the population reaches about one million.”

Salt says the boom of the 1980s “put the meat on the Gold Coast”, but he says the evolution to maturity and stability is now in the hands of a new generation of home-grown entrepreneurs.

He says the main game for job creation since the GFC has been education and healthcare – both of which have become key economic platforms for the city council in recent years.

Study Gold Coast CEO, and Young Professionals Gold Coast president, Shannon Willoughby says education is vital to facilitate economic diversity.

“It impacts on social issues like youth unemployment, which sits at 13 per cent on the Gold Coast, and greatly increases their chances of employment through study.

“It also works hand in hand with tourism.”

Salt says while the city has already taken the step into education, including the development of the Gold Coast University Hospital, he says it is not yet punching above its weight in the sector and has significant capacity to expand.

“Knowledge work is fluid, mobile and it gravitates to a lifestyle location.”

Salt says change will come if the Gold Coast continues to embrace the culture of entrepreneurism, but he says that also means embracing the failure that goes hand in hand with “having a go”.

He also says the demographic to watch is Generation Y, who are “footloose and fancy free and predisposed to education” and taking risk.

But in order to keep that talent here, he says Gold Coasters need to drop the notion that you must leave the city to really make it big.

“It’s completely the wrong culture.”

Salt is a supporter of bold ideas for the city, including the cruise ship terminal and the Commonwealth Games - describing them as “hard decisions” that need to be contemplated.

He says the 2018 Commonwealth Games are perfectly timed for the city’s economic cycle and he doesn’t believe the Coast will suffer a post-Games downturn.

“I think the worst is over and we’re on the right side of the curve.

“We are not heading for the heady days of 2003-05, but my expectation is that there is no reason for everything to fall into a heap.”

Salt points to Australia’s “extraordinarily high level of population growth” of 400,000 people a year, compared to a normal rate of 200,000, to support the Coast’s continued growth, particularly the construction sector.

But for the final message of hope, Salt says Gold Coasters could learn a lesson from the regional NSW city of Dubbo.

“Dubbonians are committed to the greater growth and prosperity of Dubbo.”

Salt says they are great believers in their city, and that’s something that Gold Coasters appear to lack.

“I would love to see that culturally – that Dubbo effect. Imagine what this place could do if we all got behind it?”

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