High achiever - Ben Artup Executive Director Strategic Projects and Economic Development, Bundaberg Regional Council

Article image - High achiever - Ben Artup  Executive Director Strategic Projects and Economic Development, Bundaberg Regional Council

Bundaberg is often called the Goldilocks region – not too big, but not too small. This means we are a good place to test and trial new ideas; we have enough scale, but are also manageable.

From an economic development perspective, I believe our region is also one of Australia’s best kept secrets. The world’s best climate, a growing agricultural sector transforming itself through technology and looking to increase food exports, along with a local spirit and legacy of innovation.

You know, a guy called Bert Hinkler flew his handmade glider here in 1912, that’s within a decade of the Wright brothers flying at Kitty Hawk.

On getting into local government
I started in local government in 2002, then took a break out in the corporate world between 2009 and 2017 – returning in 2017 to local government at Bundaberg Regional Council.

I’ve always liked the challenge of local government. I believe to some extent, it’s a more complex environment than private sector, it can also offer meaningful and challenging work.

I studied Economics and Finance at Western Sydney University, getting a job as a junior researcher at the University after studying.

This job exposed me to economic development straight out of university as most of our research was for local economic development departments within Western Sydney Councils.

I jumped from this job to Blacktown Council in 2002. Blacktown was at the time the third largest council in Australia, and I was the first economic development officer they had.

A bloke called Leighton Farrell gave me the job and I worked there in partnership with him and former test cricketer, Gavin Robertson. The General Manager at the time, Ian Reynolds, I think kind of enjoyed the work we did that created a more positive story about the potential of Western Sydney. A story which is now common place in Western Sydney.

I then worked with Penrith Business Alliance for four years establishing the Penrith Health and Education Precinct.  

Then, after almost four years with Deloitte Access Economics, I took up a job with Bundaberg Regional Council.

Some things leave their mark
I remember the day in February 2004, Sydney’s Wonderland in Blacktown announced it was closing down. The state government had rezoned the land from ‘tourism use’ to ‘industrial use’, so its value went through the roof. Needless to say the overseas owners decided to sell Wonderland to a big foreign-owned industrial developer. While people in Singapore and the Netherlands made a lot of money, Blacktown lost 1,200 jobs overnight.

The General Manager called me the day of the announcement and asked if I could replace the 1,200 jobs that were lost. I replied, ‘Sure – no problem, I will get to it on Monday’.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we came up with the idea of a water park to replace Sydney’s Wonderland. Hence Wet N Wild now exists next to the Prospect Reservoir in Blacktown. Problem solved. I think Wet N Wild now employs about 800 people, and there’s probably more than 400 jobs on the old Wonderland site, so job done I think!

More recently, getting a ‘Regional Deal’ announced for the Hinkler/ Bundaberg region in September 2018 was fantastic. However this rapidly turned to disappointment as issues between the state and federal government resulted in the state government not actually signing up to the Deal.

My boss, Chief Executive Officer Steve Johnston, and I may go down in local government history as being a part of the only Regional Deal in Australia’s history without a state government involved.  

Good things are happening round here
I am proud of the ‘Reducing Urban Glow in Bundaberg’ project which will see the deployment of new lighting technology along the coastline (where I now live) to protect sea turtle populations. Using a new open data approach, this is a $1.3 million project jointly funded by the Australian Government and a range
of local stakeholders.

Bundaberg is also getting a new Level Five Hospital built within 6-7 years, and I do lose sleep thinking about where they might locate it.
We are trying to establish an Ag-Tech Accelerator in our region in partnership with CQ University following funding from the Federal Government. This is exciting, so watch this space.

We also have a port that operates at less than 10 percent capacity, which is an economic opportunity just waiting to happen.  A friend of mine, Professor Ed Blakely, visited Bundaberg last year and said to me after I showed him all around Bundaberg, “Ben if you can’t make great stuff happen here in Bundaberg, you shouldn’t be allowed to work in economic development”.

Still to do list:

  • keep getting results for the region I live and work in
  • learn how regional Australia works and
  • not disappoint Professor Ed Blakeley…