1990 – 2023 – From ‘collapse’ to revival

June 8, 2023 BY

Barwon Health is one of the region's largest employers. Photo: Supplied

At the beginning of the 1990’s, that frightening sound Australia heard was the collapse of the Pyramid Building Society – a financial calamity that wiped out the savings of thousands of regional residents. Pyramid’s demise, however, was just one lowlight from a particularly difficult period.

Australia was gripped by the deepest recession since the 1930s and many businesses in Geelong were experiencing falling profits, job retrenchments and, in some cases, closure. In 1991, an alarming 15.8 percent of our region’s labour force was registered as unemployed.
Not surprisingly, Chamber membership decreased markedly. The times called for new ideas and new actions.

As a result, Andrew Senia, a Chamber board member, was dispatched to visit the USA, tasked with studying successful chambers of commerce in that country. Upon returning, his report provided the basis for future Chamber operations, including the formation of the Geelong Junior Chamber of Commerce and, in 1993, the Chamber’s new business plan.

In the immediately ensuing years, the region moved in a positive direction with several major developments. In a move previously recommended by the Chamber, six local councils were merged into one, forming what is now the City of Greeter Geelong. In 1997, the Chamber teamed with other organisations in a successful bid to put tariff reductions on hold.

The Geelong Waterfront was redeveloped into one of the country’s most beautiful waterfront precincts. In 1998, the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research ranked the City of Greater Geelong as one Australia’s top three local government suppliers of research and development. The Qantas subsidiary, Jetstar, began passenger service from Avalon Airport in 2004. And, by then, the Geelong Chamber of Commerce had become the largest independent Chamber in all of Australia.

Setbacks, however, were to come. Alcoa closed its smelter operation in 2014. Ford ceased manufacturing in 2016. Jobs were lost and lives disrupted.

But, faced with tough times yet again, Geelong did what it has done in the past. It reinvented itself.

In 2023, Geelong’s business world is a very different place. Our biggest industry is health, followed by education, followed by service industries such as our council, NDIS, TAC and Worksafe. Heavy manufacturing has largely been replaced by smaller and smarter tech and manufacturing businesses. Entrepreneurship is on the rise.

Today’s Geelong is alive and well – reinvigorated and ready for the future.