Economic Development forum in Gunnedah, a beginning… Regional Development Australia Northern Inland (RDANI) Research Economist David Thompson, Susannah Pearce (Moree Plains Shire Council), RDANI Economist and Grants Officer, James Pryor, Emily Wilson (Gunnedah Shire Council), Ian George (Liverpool Plains Shire Council, RDANI Chair Russell Stewart of Narrabri, Charlotte Hoddle (Gunnedah Shire Council), Regional Manager of AusIndustry Business Services Grayson Wolfgang, RDANI Executive Director Nathan Axelsson, Will Winter (Armidale Regional Council) and Margot Davis (Glen Innes Severn Council).
“Our Local Councils face many barriers as they work to foster economic growth but they are not working in isolation and to highlight this, we recently ran our inaugural Economic Development forum in Gunnedah,” Chair of Regional Development Australia Northern Inland (RDANI) Russell Stewart. “This is the start of something really positive for the region. We brought several economic development specialists together from Local Councils around the region. They were so delighted with the initiative that we will be running these events as often as bimonthly. We’re all busy, so it is tough to take a day out to get together but this forum was extremely worthwhile and greatly appreciated by the Economic Development Managers who came along from Gunnedah, Glen Innes, Moree Plains, Liverpool Plains and Armidale Regional Councils, as well as AusIndustry.”
RDANI Executive Director Nathan Axelsson said economic development managers were invited to the forum from the 12 Local Government Areas (LGAs) that make up the Northern Inland region. “Our aim was to facilitate the exchange of information on the latest Regional Development Australia Northern Inland projects, grant and funding opportunities, best practice and the barriers to economic development efforts in our Local Councils.”
“Council representatives were keen to discuss successful projects that may work elsewhere, as well as joint projects. Federal and State Governments are supportive of projects that are across Council boundaries. They want to see collaborations, partnerships and efficiencies, which is what this forum facilitated,” said Mr. Axelsson. “Our Local Government Areas are interconnected and a big-picture regional approach just makes sense.”
“Economic Development is about supporting business and consequently, jobs growth. This results in more income for local economies, funding improved public infrastructure but there are frustrating impediments which were discussed at the forum,” said Mr. Axelsson. “At the moment, the drought has made simply keeping the doors open a struggle for many businesses. Another barrier our economic development managers experience is the challenging and time-consuming process to get projects approved by elected bodies or through their corporate structures.”
“We were able to provide insights in Government programs and grant funding opportunities that are available to our Local Councils and make them aware of how they can use RDANI services to better their prospects for projects that can benefit their respective communities. We also outlined job growth stimulating private sector grants.”
“We’ve had great success over the past 18 months in assisting most Northern Inland Councils with the likes of business cases, cost-benefit analyses and economic data for grant applications, contributing to the attraction of over $30million in funding to this region.”
Mr. Axelsson concedes that Local Councils often face criticism for not being progressive enough in supporting economic development but is quick to defend the work undertaken behind the scenes. “The economic development staff within a Council are a unique bunch. Most have strong private sector backgrounds. They are very dynamic people and they do know how to drive economic growth within their communities. They can be held back by funding or internal political constraints,” he said.
“The role of Local Government has changed. We’ve seen a lot of cost-shifting from State and Federal Governments onto Councils, which are forced to supplement stagnant revenue with ad-hoc project grants. I would ask ratepayers to appreciate the financial struggle of their Local Council; there’s a lot to do and not much to do it with.”