The idea of developing the digital sector in the Noosa region began to get traction in the wake of Local Economic strategy review by Council in 2013 that identified an over-reliance on the tourism and hospitality sectors, and the catastrophic economic disruptions caused by uncontrollable factors like major weather events, natural disasters and pandemics.
That review also recognised that Noosa has finite carrying capacity for tourists and visitors and that other sectors needed to be developed in order to grow the economy and ensure the continued prosperity of the Noosa community. It also identified the problem of a youth brain drain from the region and the need for more attractive employment options to help retain young people in the region.
Around the same time, a small digital sector had started to form organically in the region. A company called Atmail, a cloud email provider, had established itself in a small office space in Peregian Beach and there was a nascent community of digital professionals and consultants working remotely via the rapidly improving broadband in the region.
The first digital sector networks started to form at this time, with the creation of the Silicon Coast and Coding from Beach meetup groups. Members of this community, led by Brian Keayes, organised a TEDx event in Noosa in 2013 and a key theme of the event was technology and innovation.
These activities heavily influenced Council’s decision to add the Digital sector to the economic development mix, recognising it as a high value employment sectors with a small environmental footprint, that could be nurtured to boost Noosa’s economic resilience.
In 2013 the Peregian Beach Bowls Club went into receivership, unable to sustain itself financially. Council acquired the land, partly to stave off community concerns about the development of a shopping centre on the site.
Following community consultation, Council decided to create a knowledge campus on one third of the site and maintain the rest as green space for the community. Through the lobbying efforts of the nascent digital community, especially those of Ben Duncan (founder of Atmail), Council developed a plan to create a digital hub on the site.
Construction commenced in Jan 2017 and the Hub was built at a cost of $3 million funded through ratepayer funds and a $1m grant from the state government.
Construction was completed by Hutchinson Builders in early 2018 after a 50week build.
The Hub was officially opened by Qld Minister Sterling Hinchcliffe, Mayor Tony Wellington, and local member, Sandy Bolton.
The Hub commenced operations on 7 July 2018 with Atmail as an anchor tenant.
At launch, the Hub had an initial cohort of 20 fulltime members, including technologists from Levo, Even Labs, Creative Applause, Drumbeat Digital and Hey Piggy Bank
The catastrophic bushfires of 2019 almost burnt down the Hub and the entire Peregian Beach township, saved only by the brave efforts of over 300 volunteer firefighters. The Hub along with the rest of the suburb was evacuated for 96 hours and upon return found embers on the doorstep and the nearby tree border burnt to a crisp.
This experience inspired the creation of the Hub’s Firetech Connect project, with an aim to accelerate adoption of bushfire resilience technologies. The program launched in early 2020.
Then in April 2020, the Covid pandemic reached Peregian Beach. Fortunately, the Hub was able to operate through much of the pandemic, save for a 4-5 week period early in the pandemic where it was forced to close due to State government rules. During that period, the Hub was transformed into manufacturing facility to produce PPE for frontline medical staff at Sunshine Coast hospitals.
On the back of the Hub’s Firetech Connect Program, Council was awarded grants from the federal bushfire recovery funds to help finance a new facility that would expand the Hub and double as a Firetech facility for trialling bushfire technologies. That funding, coupled with a previously awarded federal grant for Building Better Regions, allowed Council to create the AI Lab. This would involve a renovation of the old Peregian Beach Community House and construction of new facilities.
A contract for construction was awarded to Carfax Commercial Constructions and work on the new facility commenced in December 2022.
Construction of the AI Lab was completed in June 2023 and the facility was officially opened in July.