This article was originally published in print in The Herbert River Express on July 19 2017
North Queensland Bio-Energy (NQBE) predicts their $640 million renewable energy sugar cane mill project could solve Ingham’s “serious ageing population problem”.
NQBE chairman Robert Carey said after last Saturday’s announcement the project was on schedule for financial closure this year, and construction on the mill would start early next year after the wet season.
Hinchinbrook Shire Mayor Ramon Jayo and Hinchinbrook Chamber of Commerce president Pat Lynch showed their support for the project and its benefits for the community.
Mr Carey said the creation of apprenticeships and traineeships would reverse the current trend of many school leavers having to leave the district to find employment.
“In addition to the comprehensive range of skillsets that the NQBE project will require, including trade qualified fitters, machinists, fabricators and electricians, and people technically qualified in sugar cane agronomy, cane processing, power generation and ethanol distilling; there will be numerous opportunities for unskilled young people,” he said.
Mr Carey explained that there would be 20 apprenticeships available in the areas of mechanical engineering, electrical and instrument control, as well as traineeships such as operator assistants, laboratory assistants, drivers and cleaners.
He said, for example, the mill would need more than 200 shift work truck drivers to transport cane from farms to the factory, raw sugar to the port, and ethanol to fuel companies.
He said there would also be 450 jobs available during the construction stage of the mill and an additional 250 jobs once operational.
“There will be no shortage of opportunities for the youth of the district to get a job,” Mr Carey said.
He said NQBE was “well resourced” and “prepared” to provide training for those available to ensure NQBE has a professional and highly efficient workforce.
Mr Lynch said the project would bring in new people and would also create “real jobs good for young families” to be able to buy homes and cars, and send their children to school.
“I think in the longer term after the project has been built, it will bring in new jobs in the mill, and with the trucks needing servicing, as well as people to drive them.”
Cr Jayo said the cash injection for NQBE to proceed to complete due diligence for financial closure was “a shot in the arm for the shire.”
He said local businesses were “doing it tough” and would continue to see young people leaving town to get a job.
“The district has one of the worst ageing population problems in Australia and unless we can provide jobs for our young people the town of Ingham will slowly die,” he said.
Cr Jayo said he expected that parents of children currently at school would be delighted to see their children would no longer need to leave the district to find employment.
He said the job opportunities that would be created would be suitable for people of all skill levels.
He said, in addition to the employment benefits, the project would generate $96 million in increased annual economic output.
“I have been saying that this district can no longer rely on crystal sugar for its survival. We must be able to use the cane we grow for value adding opportunities,” Cr Jayo said.
He said the “green power component” could provide alternate revenue and a potential reduction in power bills, resulting in alternative cropping.
Cr Jayo also urged all Hinchinbrook Shire residents to get behind the project.
“I would think that every grey nomad driving through Ingham would want to stop and do a mill tour once the new factory is operational,” he said.
“Mill tours are not available to us for tourism purposes at the present time.”
Earlier this month NQBE received the “final piece in the jigsaw puzzle” when it received a $1.17 million loan from the State Government through the Biofutures Industry Development Fund.