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Facilitating change in local and regional communities: an operational viewpoint

Bruce McCollum

Bruce McCollum, & Associates,Goondiwindi

Most people tend to resist change, whether it be political, social or cultural, but where community economic development is concerned, they welcome it!

Our consultations and surveys have consistently shown that people in their local communities have three major concerns:

  • jobs
  • quality of life
  • environment

This came out very strongly during the development of the Central Coast Regional Economic Development Strategy,- which was based on extensive community and focus group workshops, surveys and interviews.

The Vision Of The Central Coast

"The Central Coast, with its outstanding natural beauty and central location between Sydney and Newcastle, will retain, enhance and share its treasured features forever. Sensible, realistic development will be compatible with the environment, jobs will keep pace with population growth and the desire of people to work close to where they live, and a strong and equitable social fabric will provide an enviable quality of life for all. The Central Coast as a " centre of excellence " will combine city advantages with the amenity of open space living in a unique variety of villages, towns and locations, the best of both worlds. "

People in regional, rural and remote areas are not happy with the current situation. They are therefore positively predisposed towards change. They want jobs, for themselves and for young people that are compatible with their lifestyle and environmental aspirations.

The key issue is that very few people know how to go about producing the jobs.

This is our challenge.

The major premise

Development agencies are the facilitators, whereas private sector organisations are the doers. The interaction between them needs to be:

  • Constructive
  • Realistic
  • Mutually beneficial

The key factor is the nature of the interaction between the development agency & the private sector organisation.

  • The development agency must ensure that its objectives are compatible with the needs of the business
  • The business must recognise the need for spin-off economic benefits for the community in which they operate.

We are looking for a win-win situation

For the private sector organisation, decisions about a project are made on the basis of questions such as:

  • Do we really want to do it?
  • Can we make money from it?
  • How risky is it?
  • Are we prepared to put in the extra time & effort?
  • How much support will we get, & from whom?
  • Will we be able to find suitable employees?
  • Where can we get the money from?

From the development agency point of view, the questions are quite different:

  • How many jobs will it create?
  • What will be the spin-off benefits for the community?
  • What can we obtain from Government to help us get started?
  • Will this help us to retain or increase our funding?
  • What will the members of the wider community think about this project?

There are four main primary wealth creating and employment generating sectors:

  • Primary production -agriculture & mining
  • Value-adding, manufacturing
  • Tourism
  • Services traded outside the local area

We should concentrate our activities in these sectors, as the economic benefit from them is much greater than that of the "secondary" sectors such as retail and service industries.

In a perfect market-driven world, purely commercial forces would apply, market opportunities would be identified, and feasible business propositions undertaken. Development agencies would not be necessary. In reality, this does not occur.

Properly focused development agency activity is necessary to achieve improved outcomes. Our task is to facilitate the efforts of people in the private sector who invest and create profit and jobs. What we do should be scaled to suit the size, location and distinctive characteristics of the area in which we work. Within this context, there are several common principles that apply in creating a positive climate and interacting constructively with the private sector:

1. Drive the strategic planning process, based on broad community consultation with maximum private sector input
2. Create awareness, knowledge and interest INSIDE and OUTSIDE the area
3. Identify and work with local proponents to produce investment-ready projects
4. Undertake direct marketing to attract project proponents and investors
5. "Handhold" project proponents through the establishment processes
6. Link investors and financiers with proponents of investment-ready projects
7. Continually identify opportunities and bring together people who can contribute to them

Drive the strategic planning process, based on broad community consultation with maximum private sector input

In areas where there are sensible, practical strategic plans with good acceptance and understanding, results are being achieved.


  • Opportunities are identified by the people who know an area best
  • A vision for the area can be conveyed with enthusiasm to those seeking opportunities, inducing a more positive attitude in them
  • Project proponents know what sort of activities are favoured in a particular area, and which ones are not
  • Any lack of infrastructure that could impede desired development is identified and addressed
  • A realistic appraisal of resources occurs
  • Quality information is produced and made available in user-friendly form for planning and decision-making

Example: Central Coast Regional Econonomic Development Strategy

Highlights are:

  • The entire community was consulted: public meetings, special interest group meetings, key stakeholder interviews
  • The process was not rushed: there were several draft stages, with people having plenty of opportunity for input
  • A coordinated partnership approach was nurtured between the development agencies, councils, government, media & private sector manufacturing and service businesses
  • The Strategy is genuinely accepted as being representative of the aspirations of the great majority of residents of the area
  • It is practical and implementable

The Central Coast Regional Economic Development Strategy has lead directly to:

  • Business After Hours
  • A Hydroponics Industry Development Plan
  • A $1.2 million Business Incubator at the Central Coast Campus, University of Newcastle
  • An active industry attraction & relocation program
  • An export assistance program
  • The Central Coast Agriculture Development Plan

Create awareness, knowledge and interest INSIDE and OUTSIDE the area

The classic stages required before a "sale" can be made are awareness, knowledge and f interest. It is just as important for this to occur inside an area as it is outside, since it is the 1 insiders who are the ambassadors; their energy and enthusiasm is essential in convincing the

outsiders that the area offers opportunities and a supportive climate.

Example: Grow Zone industry Attraction Program

  • 23 opportunity identification workshops
  • Marketing of Grow Zone projects
  • Web site in partnership with Indelta, USQ
  • Hard copy materials
  • Employment of Industry Attraction Officer

Identify and work with local proponents to produce investment-ready projects

Once "hooked", proponents in most cases :still need considerable support and encouragement [ in bringing their projects to fruition. .

Example: Caloundra Wildflower Gardens & Eco-tourism Centre

  • Feasibility study involving Caloundra City Council, private developers, conservationists & Government agencies
  • Components –
    • Sunshine Coast Wildflower Gardens
    • Commercial native plant production
    • Enterprise Complex
    • Nature based tourism
    • Employment & training

Undertake direct marketing to attract project proponents, investors and purchasers of locally-produced product

When a project or area of development offers opportunities for many participants, development agencies can playa major part in direct marketing of the various opportunities to potential developers, investors and purchasers of product.

Example: Central Coast Hydroponics Development Plan, Lotus Red

  • "Central Coast: Hydroponics Centre of Australia "
  • Hydroponics Industry Development Officer
  • Sales to Singapore, Indonesia. Hong Kong, Malaysia
  • Attraction of new hydroponic enterprise~;
  • Hydroponics Research & Development Facility

"Handhold" project proponents through the establishment processes

Many proponents are discouraged from continuing with their projects because it all becomes "just too hard" to make the contacts and. negotiate the processes leading to a successful outcome. Removing some or all of the obstacles can make a significant difference.

Example: Fertiliser hatching plant, Goondiwindi

In one day:

  • Land inspections, option on suitable block
  • Introduction to three builders
  • Introduction to two welders of aluminium
  • Introduction to Council CEO, all Councillors bar one
  • Acceptance in principle of project by Council at evening meeting

Link investors and financiers with proponents of investment-ready projects

There are often investment-ready projects that fail or languish through their inability to attract appropriate investment. A pro-active approach to linking developers and investors can lead to successful partnerships that would not otherwise have occurred simply through lack of awareness.

Example: Obi Beef

  • Organic beef from the Channel country
  • Future Search workshop idea
  • Dedicated processing plant at Quilpie
  • Export to Asia
  • Grow Zone Investment Roadshow
  • Interest in providing finance

Continually identify opportunities and bring together people who can contribute to them

Opportunity identification is arguably the single most important process we have at our disposal.


  • Future Search workshops
  • Maranoa Opportunity Identification Project
  • Goondiwindi Cotton
  • Row crop guidance system


Results are achieved by:

  • Enthusiasm, drive, persistence, leadership
  • Having a strong and focussed vision
  • Involving a lot of people in striving to achieve the vision
  • Adopting a realistic commercial approach
  • Continually identifying opportunities and putting them forward
  • Paying as much attention to our internal clients as our external ones

Its no use being a top pilot if you keep landing at the wrong airport”

We need to be skilled professionals in what we do. The objective way to measure our success is in terms of:

  • Net gain in jobs
  • Improved business viability

An example of very focused, measurable: goals comes from the Central Coast Regional Economic Development Strategy:

GOAL N: To generate new industry and business


  • 150 new industries and businesses in the region by 2002, with an employment average of 20
  • An average of 600 net gain in jobs per annum from relocated and new industry and business in the period 1997-98 to 2001-02

GOAL E To develop existing business and industry


  • Expansion or diversification of 10% net (approximately 800 net) of the region's businesses by 2002
  • An increase of 5% per annum in net exports from the region in the next five years
  • An average of 700 net gain in jobs per annum from expanded and diversified existing businesses in the period 1997 -98 to 2001-02

Final food for thought

  • Several smaller job-creating enterprises may be more beneficial than one or two larger ones
  • Primary wealth and job creation should be our aim
  • The projects and activities we champion must be acceptable to the community
  • Above all, we must be continually looking for opportunities & helping people to take them up if they are commercially sound

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