Aquis and its impact on Cairns labour market

There is much talk in the media about the potential jobs impact if/when the Aquis integrated-resort goes ahead north of Cairns. The company’s statements talk of 3,750 jobs in the construction phase rising to about 11,000 when fully operational in 2018.
To put these numbers in some context let’s just consider the current position of the Cairns labour market. The table below outlines the current position (all data Conus Trend) and some estimates (all else remaining equal) based on a variety of assumptions (outlined below).

It would seem fair to assume that if construction was to start immediately that at least some of these new jobs would come from outside the region; therefore let’s assume the working age population increases to 192,500 (i.e. 13% of the new employees are sourced from outside Cairns). We could also expect to see a move up in the participation rate generally (let’s assume to 62) as some were attracted back into the workforce.
Therefore, with a working age population of 192,500 and a participation rate of 62, our workforce would be 119,350. With an extra 3,750 employed total employment would be 110,850 which leaves 8,500 (119,350 minus 110,850) unemployed. That would mean an unemployment rate of 7.1%.
So perhaps 1,500 of the new jobs would go to those currently unemployed, 500 to people from outside Cairns and the balance to new entrants into the workforce.

April actual with Aquis Construction jobs 
and various assumptions
Employed 107,100 110,850 3,750 new jobs
Unemployed 9,800 8,500
Workforce 116,900 119,350
Participation 60.9 62.0
Working Age Pop 192,000 192,500 500 new employees from outside
Cairns Unemp Rate % 8.1 7.1

How the fully operational 11,000 jobs in 2018 would impact the region is far harder to determine since we cannot know with any certainty what the level of “non-Aquis” jobs is likely to be by that time. Clearly a large number of people would come to Cairns for the Aquis work and we would also (hopefully) see a big pick-up in participation. The working age population is growing by about 2,000 per annum at present so by 2018 we would expect to see it at around 200,000; add in perhaps 2,000 for extra new arrivals and we get a total of 202,000. If participation returned to a more “normal” level of 65 this would mean a workforce of some 131,300. That would make Aquis the employer of about 8.4% of all Cairns workers.

Neither of these projections take into account any peripheral employment effect within the economy from suppliers etc. who would clearly also see employment growth from Aquis going ahead. They also do not account for any fall-off in jobs from employers who might be negatively impacted; although these are likely to be few and of only minimal significance. Clearly Aquis would have an enormous impact on the employment level in the Cairns region.

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