15 February 2024

Gong residents keep spending on good times while unemployment at a 50-year low

| Jen White
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People sitting at a bar.

Spending on dining and entertainment within the Wollongong CBD was strong last year. Photo: Wollongong City Council.

Despite the country’s rising cost of living, Wollongong residents still find money to spend on dining and entertainment, according to the city’s first Economic Insights Report.

Wollongong City Council produced the report using data collected through Spendmapp, which aggregates all EFTPOS and credit card transactions.

It shows the city’s quarterly unemployment rate of 2.7 per cent is the lowest it’s been since the early 1970s, about 30 per cent of the jobs across Wollongong are within the CBD and that spending money on dining and entertainment is a priority for residents right across the local government area.

Dining and entertainment was the second highest spend category after grocery stores and supermarkets, and both categories were well ahead of department stores and clothing, specialised food retailing and specialised and luxury goods.

Council’s Economic Development Manager Mark Grimson said the data, released this week, was very useful as it helped council to direct its economic planning.

“It also gives our community the opportunity to understand at a deeper level the impact their spending has locally and what the broader economic environment is having on where we live, work and play,’’ he said.

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“Anyone with a mortgage is in tune with the decisions of the RBA on interest rates, and those shopping for groceries are seeing the impacts of inflation on supermarket shelves.

“What this information shows is how this is playing out at a local level and in households in Helensburgh, Figtree and in Windang. It’s grassroots information that is very relevant to those who live in the Wollongong local government area.’’

The report, which will be updated quarterly, found that spending on dining and entertainment within the Wollongong CBD was strong, with December being 8.6 per cent above the same period as the previous year in real terms.

During 2023, total expenditure on dining and entertainment within the CBD was up 1.6 per cent compared to 2022.

Council General Manager Greg Doyle said the report’s findings would help council prioritise investment across the city.

“I find the information around dining and entertainment particularly interesting as council has invested a significant amount of energy and focus in this space in recent years and capitalised on the challenges that COVID provided to improve outdoor dining opportunities across Wollongong,’’ he said.

“We’ve streamlined processes for approvals for outdoor dining permits and continue to work proactively with businesses to explore new opportunities.

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“Our activated spaces in Lower Crown Street, the Crown Street Mall and Crown Lane attract people to meet and dine outside.

“We are working to create spaces and places where people want to go, eat and socialise. The data in this report shows us that this is a priority for our community and that means it’s also a priority for us.’’

However for Mayor Gordon Bradbery, it was the surprisingly low unemployment rate which “fascinated” him.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who is surprised to see that the city’s unemployment rate is sitting at levels that haven’t been seen in Wollongong since the late 1960s and early 1970s – particularly given the broader economic climate at this time,’’ he said.

“According to the latest data set, we’ve already seen an increase of 6730 jobs since 2019. We really are moving in the right direction.

“What I hope to see happen next is the youth unemployment rate continue to decline. It has fallen over recent years down to a low 5.4 per cent in February 2023, but has since increased to 7 per cent in September 2023.’’

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