Regional Profiles

The Illawarra Region

Population 413,210
Avg. Annual Growth (2006-11) 1.0%
Growth Rate 2006-11 4.8%
Area 8,308km sq.
Key Industry Sectors 1. Retail Trade (12.9%), 2. Education and Training (11.4%), 3. Manufacturing (11.1%), 4. Construction (9.6%), 5. Accomodation and Food Services (9.0%)
Sub-regions Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama, Shoalhaven, Wingecarribee

The Illawarra is a key region of Australia, contributing considerable resources to the national economy. The region possesses extensive livestock, wood and maritime enterprises, an internationally recognised university, substantial tourism capacity, a population of more than 400,000 and a labour force in excess of 180,000 people. This wealth of resources is perfectly complimented by the region’s stunning physical beauty, making it an ideal place to combine outstanding business success with a great lifestyle.


Geography and Climate

The Illawarra Region lies directly south and southwest of metropolitan Sydney and northeast of Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Within its 8,485 square kilometre territory are five local government areas - Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama, Shoalhaven and Wingecarribee.

The Region displays exceptional physical geography. On its eastern boundary the region embraces 242km of stunning coastline and a long coastal plain. The coastline features long, sandy beaches, harbour inlets, rivers, large protected estuaries and bays offering unlimited opportunity for recreation and leisure activities. To the west are the rich agricultural soils and rolling hills of the Southern Tablelands. The divide between the coastal plain and the Tablelands is clearly defined by the sharp rise of the Illawarra Escarpment, which offer spectacular views of the Region.

The climate is warm and humid with moderate to high rainfall. Summer is generally warm and wet and winter is generally mild and dry. The average temperature in the region varies depending on location.


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Population growth in the Illawarra Region is above the State average. According to Census data, the population of the Illawarra Statistical District in 2011 was 413,210. Between 2006 and 2011 the region’s population is rose by 19,000 people, an increase in population of 4.9% over the period.

The Department of Urban Affairs and Planning has projected that the Illawarra region’s population will stand at around 455,100 by 2016. Such a figure would represent an increase of approximately 10.1% on the present population.

According to Census of Population and Housing figures, in the decade between 2006 and 2011 the Illawarra Region’s resident workforce grew from 173,022 to 184,799 people, an increase of 6.8%. As the Illawarra’s economy has diversified the workforce has shifted from employment in traditional heavy industries to the services sector.


The resident and business communities of the Illawarra have access to a vast and sophisticated infrastructure. The region’s essential services such as transport, public utilities, education and health are world-class.


The Illawarra Region has a well-developed system of transportation links. Its extensive road network includes the Southern Freeway and Princes and Hume Highways, which form part of the State’s main road network. Rail links comprise of the Illawarra line from Sydney extending through the coastal belt to Bomaderry near Nowra. The main national rail line (Sydney to Melbourne) passes through the western region of the Illawarra, stopping at Moss Vale. The western and northern coastal regions of the Illawarra are linked by the Moss Vale-Unanderra line, which is predominantly used for goods traffic.

The region also possesses three airports, located at Albion Park, Mittagong and Nowra providing links between the region and intra/interstate destinations for both business and pleasure. The region also possesses the deepest harbour on the NSW seaboard at Port Kembla, offering enormous potential for new development and trade opportunities.

Public Utilities

Water, gas and electricity are well supplied to the region. The main water resources of the Illawarra Region are the catchment areas of the Shoalhaven River and the upper reaches of the Wingecarribee, Nepean and Catti Rivers. Water and sewerage supply for residential and commercial areas is comprehensive, with the exception of some rural areas of Wingecarribee and Shoalhaven LGAs. Electricity is distributed throughout the entire region by Integral Electricity. Natural Gas is available in most areas of Wollongong, Shellharbour and Wingecarribee with all new residential subdivisions automatically gaining supply. The Kiama LGA is supplied with tempered liquid petroleum whilst the Shoalhaven LGA is also supplied with Liquid Petroleum Gas.


The region has an exceptional education infrastructure. There are a total of 181 primary and secondary schools in the Illawarra region. The Illawarra Institute of Technology operates 14 TAFE NSW Campuses throughout the region, providing a wide variety of vocational skills training to over 34,500 enrolled students. The internationally recognised University of Wollongong has four campuses in the region (Wollongong, Shoalhaven, iC Campus and UOW Southern Highlands), catering for approximately 24,467 enrolled students.

Community Services

The region has an extensive network of community services available to its residents. The Illawarra Shoalhaven Health District oversees the provision of an extensive range of essential public health care services within the region, including 9 public hospitals and 14 Community centres. There is an abundant supply of childcare facilities in the region’s major urban areas.

Local Government

Local Government support for business and the community is strong in the Illawarra. The five local councils of the region are members of the Southern Councils Group, a voluntary association that has been set up to provide a forum for a unified approach to economic and social issues of regional significance. Each council has adopted policies designed to provide developers with the utmost priority in processing building and development applications and assistance is available at a local government level for businesses seeking to relocate or expand into the region.

Tourism Infrastructure

The natural attractions of the region are well supplemented by high standard tourism services and facilities. The region provides a wide range of accommodation, restaurants, entertainment and conference facilities and the local governments of the region are continually seeking to encourage sustainable new developments. As of June 2012 the region had 85 hotels and motels with facilities.

The region’s tourist precincts are well serviced by transport links with the major tourist hubs of Sydney and Canberra.

Sporting & Recreational Facilities

The Illawarra Region owns an impressive array of sporting and recreational facilities. Facilities such as pools, sporting fields, golf courses, bush-walking tracks, patrolled beaches and horse and dog racing tracks are in abundance throughout the region. Wollongong’s Beaton Park sporting complex has a world-class athletics track, which was used by visiting international teams in preparation for the year 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.


The Illawarra possesses a world-class communications infrastructure. Apart from existing networks of high standard telephony and Internet services, the region has been part of an innovative piloting program of new optical fibre technology. Mass communications infrastructure is advanced, with three regional television stations and a number of local AM and FM radio stations providing an excellent medium for cost effective business promotion within the region.

Economic Activity

The Illawarra has diversified its economy over the last few decades. What was once a very narrow economic base, focusing almost exclusively on heavy industry manufacturing, mining, agriculture and fishing, has expanded to include a broader range of economic activities. Significant growth has occurred in new areas of manufacturing and in tertiary industries such as business services, tourism and education.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Business Register, the Illawarra Statistical District had 28,853 business counts in operation as at June 2011. The industry sectors with the largest number of business locations recorded were Construction (5,500), Professional, Scientific and Technology (3,150) and Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Services (2,832).

The region’s agricultural industry has remained robust, with the gross value of produce in the 2001 season valued at around $89 million. Dairy and beef cattle grazing provide the main source of agricultural activity in the region with growth evident in fruit and wine grape growing industries.

Retail trade is a significant employer in the region, providing jobs for over 17,300 people.


The Illawarra is well positioned both geographically and economically to take advantage of the challenges of the 21st Century. As one of the leading heavy industry centres of the Southeast Asian Region, the Illawarra’s economy is already well entrenched in the global economy. Strong growth in tourism and educational industries, an emphasis on value-added agricultural products, an emerging role as a centre of excellence in advanced telecommunications technology, and a wealth of natural resources are further evidence of the Illawarra’s advantage over competitor regions.

Location & Lifestyle

The Illawarra has a great natural advantage over other regional centres. Few places in the Australia can boast the Illawarra’s mix of industry, location and lifestyle. The Illawarra’s close proximity to the massive Sydney market and Sydney’s international airport are obvious advantages of its geographic position. Furthermore, businesses within the Illawarra have access to the national transport corridor linking Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

The region’s physical beauty and wealth of outdoor recreation options have long attracted people to both live and play in the region. A thriving tourism industry and growing numbers of people relocating and retiring to the region are strong evidence of the Illawarra’s lifestyle appeal.

Heavy Industry Manufacturing Leader

Coal mining is a major economic activity within the Illawarra that has contracted but still maintains a vital role in the economy. In the year to March 2008, the regions coal companies produced 13.8 million tonnes of raw coal.

Availability of Raw Materials

The local availability of a wide variety of raw materials is a strong advantage for the region’s industry. The main mineral resource mined in the region is black coal, but other minerals mined in lesser amounts include blue metal, sand, shale, bauxite, copper lead and zinc.

An Export Hub for Southern NSW

Port Kembla is the deepest harbour on the eastern seaboard of Australia and represents a major competitive advantage for the region. With its coal, grain and other cargo handling capacity handling capacity it provides an excellent shipping facility and an excellent link to export markets for the whole of southern and southwestern NSW. The availability of port-related industrial land is another major attribute which offers opportunities for export-oriented enterprises.

Learning Centre of Excellence

Education has played a vital role in the Illawarra region’s recent development. The University of Wollongong and the TAFE NSW network add considerably to the skills base of the region’s labour force and represent a growing educational export industry.

The University of Wollongong is one of the most innovative and dynamic educational institutions in Australia, enjoying an international reputation as a centre of excellence in learning. The University was named University of the Year for 1999-2000 and again for 2000-2001by the Federal Government, adding to its already outstanding reputation. The University of Wollongong was the first ever back to back winner of this award.

In 2010, Wollongong University had 24,467 enrolled students studying in various faculties including Arts, Creative Arts, Education, Commerce, Engineering, Health and Behavioural Sciences, Informatics, Law and Science. 15,643 were enrolled as full time students, while 8,824 Part-time students were enrolled. The University has formed strong international links, and has become a leader in the export of educational services.

The region’s extensive TAFE network provides a high standard of vocational skills training for the local community and helps to build upon the healthy pool of skilled workers in the region. There were 32,386 college enrolments in 2010.

A Tourist Haven

Tourism and recreation activities draw large numbers of visitors from Sydney, Canberra, regional NSW and interstate to the Illawarra. According to Destination NSW, for the year ending June 2012, the Wollongong Statistical District drew in 1.0 Million domestic visitors, an increase of 12.4% on the previous year, which generated some 2.6 Million visitor nights (up 12.1%).

The Illawarra’s popularity can be attributed to the fact that it offers a wide variety of holiday and tourism experiences in a stunning physical environment. The Illawarra’s escarpment, its golden sandy beaches, many national parks and forests and the tranquil rural setting of the Southern Tablelands provide a strong base for the tourism industry to build on. Significant natural attractions in the region include the Kiama Blowhole, Minnamurra Rainforest, Lake Illawarra, Jervis Bay and Morton National Park, which add to the region’s Eco-tourism potential.

Centre for Advanced Technology Research and Development

The Illawarra is developing a fine reputation as a centre for innovative research and development in a range of fields including applied telecommunication technology, advanced manufacturing processes and waste management technology.

There are a number of organisations within the region either undertaking or helping to foster pioneering advanced technology research and development. For instance, the Institute for Telecommunications Research at the University of Wollongong is home to Telstra’s Customised Software Solutions Centre and the NorTel Networks Technology Centre. The Institute and its tenants are fast gaining the region a reputation as the nation’s pre-eminent centre in this highly specialised field.

The Centre for Information Technology Research at the University of Wollongong provides another example of the Illawarra’s large pool of advanced technology expertise. The Centre conducts innovative research relating to such areas as network software, wireless technologies, speech coding and security.

The Illawarra Technology Corporation’s (ITC) Division of Advanced Technologies offers an extensive range of commercial services in such areas as manufacturing development, feasibility studies, consulting, training and environmental services. In recent times the ITC has worked closely with manufacturers to integrate advanced technologies into the region’s manufacturing industry.


Major workforce restructuring and economic diversification over the past few decades have resulted in strong growth in the tertiary sector. High levels of growth have been experienced in the retailing, tourism, education and finance industries. As the economic base of the region has changed, a concerted effort has been maintained to match education and training with the needs of employers and new industries. The result is an increasing pool of professional and specialist expertise throughout the region.

Manufacturing will remain the key industry within the Illawarra. The majority of manufacturers in the region produce heavy industrial products such as basic metal products, fabricated metal products, non-metallic mineral products, food and beverage products and paper products. BlueScope Steel still dominates the manufacturing industry and is a major employer and income generator for the region.

The Illawarra Region is aiming to build on its existing economic base by focusing on value-adding opportunities in the areas of manufacturing, coal resources, minerals, agriculture, aquaculture, education and tourism.

Last updated: January 2013