The campaign to reinvent Penrith as a major business force is gaining momentum. The ‘Penrith is Here’ branding launch, ‘Penrith Progressions’ CBD revitalisation program, the $850 million Panthers development, Penrith Lakes Scheme and Penrith Health and Education Precinct are all landmark initiatives to put Penrith on the map.
But behind the scenes is one grass roots organisation, Penrith Business Alliance (PBA), which with only two full time staff members, has achieved more in its two-and-a-half-year existence than anyone thought possible at the time of its inception.
In December 2009, PBA was formed as an independent body to represent Penrith’s economic development needs, including the creation of 40,000 jobs by 2031. CEO, Bijai Kumar, is personally determined to see this target reached.
“I want to give back to the community because Penrith has welcomed me with open arms. I don’t want to be just another bureaucrat, I want to really see an improvement in people’s lives by creating jobs close to their homes in Penrith,” he said.
Already, Mr Kumar has been instrumental in lobbying the State Government for the Erskine Park Link Road (due for completion mid 2013) and the Federal Government’s recently opened Nepean Clinical School.
Now, Mr Kumar and manager of industry and investment, Ben Artup, have set their sights on attracting financing for a medical research hub as part of the Penrith Health and Education Precinct and the Penrith CBD revitalisation program, Penrith Progressions.
“It is not enough for the community to ask the levels of government for funding for various projects,” Mr Kumar said.
“Our philosophy is that if the community provides a solution that has the support of major stakeholders, we take away the risk for governments to commit to the project. We are about providing solutions, and that includes to funding too, sometimes just the support of government is enough to attract private investors.”
Mr Kumar said that when the Penrith Health and Education Precinct plan was first announced, the State Government of the time provided very little financial support, but the political backing was enough to get the project moving.
“Kristina Keneally only put towards the precinct $30,000, which really was not that much for a multi-billion dollar proposal, but it was her support and then continuing support from the current State Government that is driving investment,” he said.
“We have philanthropists and private investors very interested in the research hub and institutions like the University of Western Sydney are willing to commit a significant portion of their budget to developing the Werrington Business Park.”
Penrith Progressions, though still in its infancy, is set to revolutionise the Penrith CBD by encouraging a collaborative effort by landholders to consolidate land holdings to make large-scale development easier.
“By consolidating land in the CBD we will be able to attract investors who will be willing to build new apartments, new office space, new commercial buildings. And local businesses, restaurants and store owners will feel the benefits,” he said.
PBA’s long-term goals are also to open up the Western Sydney Employment Lands and foster international relations.
“Our sister city, Kunshan, will be holding the China International Imported Products Expo for a second year in a row in 2013 and we had a small delegation there this year – next year we will be going all out,” Mr Kumar said.
Though jobs creation is at the heart of PBA’s mission, long term, the organisation is positioned to represent all of Penrith’s economic development interests.
“We have positioned ourselves in the planning and investment industries, we have the capabilities to provide advice to developers and investors, and we have engaged with the appropriate arms of government,” he said.
“I think PBA in the future will become a planning intermediary, a mediator between the community and investors to propel economic development.”