THE Hunter Research Foundation predicts a positive outlook for the economy and business performance in the Upper Hunter over the next 12 months.
But, numerous challenges remain, according to Dr Brent Jenkins, who provided the insight at the Muswellbrook RSL Club on Wednesday.
“There were some surprising results,” he told the packed crowd.
“The Upper Hunter is creating more part-time jobs, but not as many full-time positions.
“In regards to unemployment, Muswellbrook’s recovering less quickly.
“The fall in that rate follows the Hunter’s trend, with an approximate six-month lag.
“Currently, the annual average Upper Hunter rate (5.9 per cent) is roughly on par, or slightly below, the annual average for the Hunter (6.4 per cent).
“Muswellbrook’s unemployment rate remains high at 8.6 per cent for the year-to-date compared to 4.8 per cent in the Singleton LGA and 4.6 per cent in the Upper Hunter LGA.
“Nevertheless, falling rates this year across all three local government areas, in combination with a continued trend of moderately-positive business intentions, suggests some prospect for further recovery for the mining-dependent regions in late 2016.
“The housing market is also particularly weak, especially Singleton.
“That’s unexpected given its proximity to the Hunter Expressway.
“However, residential and non-residential construction remains below trend and house prices continue to fall in Singleton and Muswellbrook.”
Dr Jenkins said it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the region.
“On the plus side, green shoots are emerging in improved forward orders, hiring intentions, business’ expectations of performance and confidence in the regional economy,” he said.
“There also appears to be significant infrastructure investment in education.
“As well, there are signs that the worst of the construction slump may be over.”
Dr Jenkins admitted the Upper Hunter’s regional outlook had improved considerably over the past year.
“While still below the highs of the mining investment boom, both the consumer and business viewpoints are trending upwards – buoyed by recent labour market improvements,” he said.
“Business expectations for the longer-term are solidly positive, optimists outnumbering pessimists since mid-2015, and prospects have improved considerably over the year-to-date.
“There are possibilities for increased investment in other non-mining sectors, too.
“The newly-announced partnerships that have formed through the Upper Hunter Tertiary Education Centre promise to strengthen the region’s education and research capacity – a key driver of innovation.”