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Sydney’s cost of living stifling investment

Sydney’s high cost of living is holding it back as an investment hub, despite being one of the top locations for tech startups and innovation, according to a new report.

The Committee for Sydney’s Benchmarking report found the cost to own and rent a property have deteriorated quickly, outpacing other chronically unaffordable cities like San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Head of Policy at the Committee for Sydney, Jeremy Gill, said Sydney was the world’s sixth most unaffordable city for housing, and if it wanted to attract talent and investment dollars, it needed to improve.

“We need to ensure the price of success is not the loss of people who can no longer afford to live here,” Mr Gill said.

“If we’re to attract and retain the people who keep our city running, we can’t afford to be unaffordable.”  

The report compared Sydney against cities that share the same characteristics and challenges, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dubai, Hong Kong, Miami, San Francisco, Singapore, Stockholm and Toronto.

The report said that Sydney had started to see economic diversity towards emerging sectors, particularly those with strong links to innovation, technology and research and development. 

But found it needed to do more to sell itself as a tech city and move beyond promoting the harbour bridge and beach lifestyle.

Mr Gill also said that while Sydney’s brand was recognised worldwide, it didn’t always translate into real investment. 

“Sydney’s bursting with potential, it’s time to tell the world we’ve got more than just the beaches, bridge and bushfires,” he said.

“The results show we’re making the right moves on Sydney’s most pressing challenges, but the message is just not getting out to the rest of the world. 

Sydney is one of only two peer cities to rate as a top city for deep tech and it ranked first across the peer cities for growth in breakout stage venture capital between 2015-18 and 19-22. 

Yet the city’s growth prospects and investment attraction don’t reflect this potential and there are clear gaps between perception, potential and performance. 

Mr Gill said Sydney had competitive tech and engineering sectors, cultural production at an all-time high, and it was in the middle of a wave of major policy reform and infrastructure delivery. 

“Sydney could be the next big tech hub of Asia, but if we build a tech sector and don’t tell anyone we’re not going to reap the benefits,” he said.

“We need to give our city’s global brand a major revamp to reflect the reality of Sydney, and attract the wave of global talent and investment that will help drive the next stage of our city’s growth.”  

The report found Sydney was top for the number of female start-up founders and a leader for high-tech careers and for access to nature and green office space.

However, the city was well behind its competitors in other areas, particularly around housing affordability and the cost of living and was last for public transport costs.

While Sydney had improved on most metrics, it needed to keep pace with other fast-moving cities.

“Our pace of change is strong, but others are just moving quicker,” Mr Gill said.

“We need to redouble our efforts to reform, invest and transform if we want Sydney to capitalise on its potential.”

He said Sydney’s performance, particularly in planning and mobility, was shaped by the city’s historic growth patterns. 

“We’re in the midst of a transport infrastructure boom and undergoing major reforms in planning and vibrancy, but the reality is these changes take time to flow through to measurable results, and the challenge for us is to unlock the city’s untapped potential quickly enough,” Mr Gill said.

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a senior journalist at Elite Agent specialising in finance and real estate.