Ipswich and Toowoomba are set to become the engine room of Queensland, with more than 300,000 people expected to move to the region west of Brisbane inside the next two decades.

The region sits on an economic runway ready to soar on the back of mega-projects Inland Rail, Wellcamp Airport and the Toowoomba bypass and the massive Ripley development, with a growing population drawn to the opportunities offered by new technology and growing industries, liveability and affordable housing.

In Toowoomba, the 3.3 per cent annual economic growth rate had outstripped the state average of 2.3 per cent over the past 10 years, with mayor Paul Antonio tipping that will continue with massive projects like the $1bn Asterion medical cannabis farm getting underway, the regional export hub at Wellcamp and its CBD rejuvenation.

In Ipswich, mayor Teresa Harding says the region's population will more than double in the next 20 years, fuelled by development at Ripley and Springfield.

Rise of the West, in partnership with the University of Southern Queensland, will celebrate this pioneering region and its people every day this week in The Sunday Mail, The Courier-Mail, Toowoomba Chronicle and Queensland Times online. The region is now home to cutting-edge research and development, like the new privately owned, static rocket testing site developed in a partnership between Rocket Technologies International and USQ at the Helidon Rocket Test Site.

While the mass influx of new residents, ideas and innovation will bring opportunities, there are also challenges.

Flight Instructor Ciara Halpin (centre) with students Rohith Srinivasan and Michelle Mish-Wills at QANTAS Group Academy FTA QLD, Wellcamp Airport, Toowoomba. Picture: Richard Walker
Flight Instructor Ciara Halpin (centre) with students Rohith Srinivasan and Michelle Mish-Wills at QANTAS Group Academy FTA QLD, Wellcamp Airport, Toowoomba. Picture: Richard Walker

Youth unemployment (18.9 per cent) remains three times the adult average (5.8 per cent) in Toowoomba, and future job-creating projects hinge on water supply, which is becoming increasingly tight, Cr Antonio says.

In Ipswich, transport looms as a major threat to future liveability. Council data shows the Ipswich road network will fail in 2031 if major improvements are not made.

The traffic choke point throws up the shocking warning that the commute from Ripley to Brisbane could top 2.5 hours each way without major improvements.

Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding said her city was a brilliant place to live but needed more attention paid to it by all levels of government.

Of the 330,000 people expected to move to Ipswich by 2041, 70 per cent will settle between Ipswich CBD, Ripley Valley and Springfield.

"Our growth is projected to be 4.6 per cent per annum to 2036. It's a massive growth rate," Cr Harding said. "Everyone's aware of where the growth is going. Now we need the state and federal governments to step up and properly fund the infrastructure we need there."

Cr Antonio said his region was well placed to prosper on the back of investment like the second range crossing, Wellcamp airport and the coming Inland Rail.

But he feared growth could be hampered by water shortages if dams and pipelines were not built soon.

Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the state government had put in extra bus and train services in Ipswich "for the here and now" and was planning for future growth in that southwest corridor that covers Ipswich, Springfield and Ripley and rural-fringe communities south of Logan like Yarrabilba and Flagstone.

"Planning for a future passenger rail service between Brisbane and Toowoomba and between Salisbury to Beaudesert is also under way," Mr Bailey said.

He said there was $400m locked in for future upgrades of the Warrego Highway and $212m for the Cunningham.

In Toowoomba, the education sector alone will put on 4400 new jobs by 2041.

USQ vice chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie said the university was supporting economic growth and innovation working with industry partners in defence and space, food and fibre production and processing, logistics, and new materials and health innovation.

"The western corridor growth will bring opportunities like never before," she said.

University of Southern Queensland Vice-Chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie.
University of Southern Queensland Vice-Chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie.

The region has drawn exciting new projects and industries, like USQ's Helidon rocket test site and the Qantas Group Pilot Academy.

USQ Professor Peter Schubel said the test site was a pivotal and important step in Australian space research.

"We have entered what is being called The Space Race 2.0," he said. "We have the Moon to Mars mission coming out of NASA and there is a lot of commercial interest around space exploration as well."

USQ senior research fellow Dr Fabian Zander said it offered "unprecedented" access for research.

"Internationally, the space industry is booming," he said.

FTA Queensland chief operating officer Pierre Steyn, which runs the pilot training Academy, said Toowoomba's Wellcamp offered a state of the art facility that could turn out 250 pilots a year in an industry that would soar again after COVID.

"It's exciting," Mr Steyn said.

Originally published as The Qld region set for massive economic growth

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