Town Crier High-Flier: Laurie Mundt

Melissa Gibbs's picture

Town Crier High-Flier: Laurie Mundt

At a recent local government exchange and co-operation seminar in Japan, Melissa Gibbs, Deputy Director of ACELG, had a chance to talk with Laurie Mundt, Economic Developer Manager at Ipswich City Council, about his role and some of the economic issues facing the sector, including debt, financing infrastructure, and regional development.

Melissa Gibbs: I'm with Laurie Mundt, economic developer manager at Ipswich City Council in Queensland. Laurie, can you tell me a little bit about what you do in your role.

Laurie Mundt: Over the years our initial focus was on attracting people to come and live in our city and we've now been able to achieve that and we're getting the population growth that we wanted.

So the challenge for us now is to create jobs for those people that are coming so that they don't have to travel for work. It's all about lifestyle as far as we're concerned. So we've got the people coming; now we're trying to create some jobs for those people that are coming.

MG: What's your role in facilitating that?

LM: My role in that is basically to attract businesses and industries. So we have a promotional role where we actively promote Ipswich as a great place to do business, and we do that through a number of mediums. We have a number of expos that we attend, and a number of seminars and workshops that we hold around the country.

We're very lucky; we've got a mayor who's a very effective promoter and he's put us on the map nationally. So the job has changed a bit over the years to one now where we're reacting to opportunities. We have a mayor who's let everyone know where Ipswich is and it's our role to facilitate those inquiries.

MG: So what are some of the challenges you face in your role?

LM: Our primary challenge is that we're just outside a capital city, so for a lot of the businesses that come to the region their first instinct is to have a look at the capital city, and we have to get them to also consider Ipswich. We are well position though; we've got a product that they can use. We've got plenty of cheap land that's fully serviced.

MG: So what are the top challenges facing your council more generally?

LM: When you have such massive growth as we have had over the last couple of years, the main challenge for council is financing the infrastructure required to service that growth. In other words, there's a big gap between council financing the delivery of the infrastructure to when the land is finally subdivided and we can start collecting rates. So the challenge for us is to find the finances to fill that gap.

MG: How do you typically do that, through borrowings?

LM: Through borrowings, yes.

MG: Do you think you're making the most effective use of borrowings?

LM: I think we are. We have to make it work. I mean we make the most effective use of the borrowings and we also try to minimise the time between actually paying for the infrastructure and it being subdivided and receiving rates.

We're also very fortunate that we've got a lot of partnership deals with developers who will fund infrastructure agreements thereby helping us finance some of the infrastructure in exchange for development credits.

MG: Where do you go to get information to help you in your role?

LM: That's been a challenge over the years. There is no truly effective source – there are no university courses or lectures or seminars that deal directly with economic development issues. There are a couple of people that write books, but they tend to be at a very high level.

The most effective source for me over the 20 years that I've been in local government has been my network of colleagues around the country. I've met them at various functions or I just phone them up out of the blue; I find they're a very valuable source. By talking to other people about issues they're facing and how they've addressed them it stops me having to re-invent the wheel with every new challenge.

And it works both ways. I have those people phoning me too to find out what does and doesn’t work for us, and I find that a very valuable network.

MG: I think local governments are very good at learning from each other. They're usually not afraid to ask for help or to ask someone how they dealt with a particular challenge, and are also willing to offer help in return.

LM: Yeah, that's right – we’re very fortunate. People are always willing to share and discuss ideas, and these days it's easy to pick up the phone or send someone an email if you've got a particular inquiry.

I'm also a member of the Economic Development Association and they have a blog on their website where you are able to register an issue that you are facing and you'll often get colleagues come back with responses.

MG: That's very helpful.

LM: Yes.

MG: During this study visit to Sakaide and Japan, what do you think was the most memorable thing that you'll take away from the experience?

LM: I'm going to go back with a lot of different experiences, some of them professional, some of them social. Professionally what I'll take back from this is how organised and how welcoming the city is. I think that's very important; I think that's something we can all learn from.

We've got a mandate to develop tourism in our city and we do focus on customer service, but this country takes that to a whole new level and I think that we can learn from that.

MG: What about the local government sector generally? Obviously your role is focussed on your activities at Ipswich, but you're connected to the sector through your personal networks and professional associations. What do you think the sector needs to make it more sustainable?

LM: I think the challenge we face, and it's often quoted, is that local government receives four per cent of the taxes in this country, and by comparison the state governments collect 16% and the Federal Government collects 80%. The percentages to me are way out of proportion when you look at the services we're required to deliver. We're very close to the people who use those services. There's often a lot expected of local government, but we're given a very small amount to deliver on these expectations.

We are fortunate to receive Federal and state government assistance for a number of programs, but I think it'd be far better if we had more direct input into how that money is directed and how it's  spent .

MG: Thanks Laurie.

Laurie Mundt is the economic developer manager at Ipswich City Council, Queensland.


Melissa Gibbs is the Deputy Director of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government.