Small Towns

BY KERRY ANDERSON

Grit, determination, and innovation to problem solve issues common to small towns came through loud and strong at the inaugural Small Town Show and Tell mini conference held in Cohuna on Friday 13 July, 2018.

So what did I hear in the room?

Small towns are important

1.8 million people live in small towns (under 5,000 population) across Australia which is the equivalent of the city of Perth. ‘Small towns are important,’ Jack Archer, CEO of the Regional Australia Institute stressed. He encouraged us to use the INsight data and research generated by RAI to assist with evidence in our submissions.

Encourage the entrepreneurs

It comes as no surprise that this was the thrust of my presentation and it was backed up by Jack Archer. For this reason we need to fight for improved technology so that more people can live and work in small towns. With a growing ‘gig’ economy where more people are self employed and contracted to perform services for the big corporations, there is a great opportunity for small towns to attract people away from the cities. I also shared some recent research from the Kauffman Foundation in the U.S.A. that has discovered that for every one percent increase in new business, there is a two percent decrease in poverty.  Business is important!

Be inclusive and form partnerships

Small towns don’t have to do it alone. Jan Smith spoke about how the small community of Girgarre has achieved so much because they have shared both the work and the benefits with all their local groups. They’ve also welcomed visitors into their town inspiring them to help out with various events and activities. I shared a project currently unfolding in Warracknabeal at the court house which is managed by the Working Heritage board on which I serve. A partnership with the local community and Monash University has eventuated in grand plans to establish an artistic hub. Bakery on Broadway revealed that they had received assistance from the Rotary Club of Keilor in sourcing equipment for their bakery. City people love to help a rural community to succeed.

Young people like growing up in a small town 

Secondary college student Taitum Mason took some time out of her school holidays to come and share her thoughts on being a young person growing up in a small town. She listed a whole range of events that young people love to attend including The Big Cohuna Festival, an initiative of Operation Next Gen. ‘I don’t feel like I miss out event though Cohuna is a small town,’ she said. ‘I’m proud to be a part of this community.’ This supports the findings of research undertaken by Operation Next Gen through a survey of over 2,000 students.

Migrants are a life line

This message came through repeatedly through Tom Smith from Kia-Ora Piggery near Pyramid Hill, Ann Durie from Bakery on Broadway in Wycheproof, and Jack Archer, CEO of the Regional Australia Institute.  The benefits are undeniable and Tom is lobbying hard for better conditions to assist migrants to gain stability when moving to rural areas. This includes extended visas as a pathway to citizenship including for extended family members; recognition of prior qualifications and fast tracking assessment and skills upgrades; and understanding that we need hands on people to migrate, not just academics.

An abundant resource

Gen Barlow from Newstead talked about opportunities for small towns to take advantage of the sun and create renewable energy. During Newstead's community consultations they discovered that not everyone was interested in renewable energy but they were interested in reducing their energy costs.  Discussions have been ongoing and persistent to get across the various regulation and service provider barriers that have presented along the way. ‘The big corporates find it hard to understand that small communities can do this,’ said Gen.

Housing is important

Cohuna’s Emily Wood presented the findings of a research project that highlighted some important points. Professionals attracted to a small town like to rent before buying to ensure that they are a good fit for that community, however, there is a lack of suitable accommodation available for rent to meet their needs. Investment opportunities to be explored for Cohuna in particular included building two four bedroom homes to be rented to professionals for 3-6 month periods, and two to four small units suitable for retirees coming in from the farms. Financial incentives for young people to purchase and renovate old homes was another recommendation.

Learn to ask

Jan Smith shared the story of how Girgarre turned a negative into a positive. When the Heinz Factory was being closed they refused a cash offer and asked instead for land which came with water rights. In effect this turned out to be far higher value that the initial $50,000 offered and is enabling them to build a $12 million botanical gardens. ‘Learn to ask,’ Jan advised.

Build a ‘war chest’

Jan’s other piece of valuable advice was to ‘build a war chest.’ She acknowledged a canny treasurer who kept putting money aside from each of their markets for when it was needed. It helped the community to save its kindergarten.  As someone who has served on both philanthropic and government bodies administering grants, I reiterated that it is important to demonstrate what your community is prepared to contribute, or already has. If you are not prepared to invest in yourself, why should anyone else?

Measure your local spend

Kathryn Lanyon explained how Boort’s Shop Local campaign has had a positive outcome for their business community over the past five years.  Coupons enable the committee to measure what is spent locally over an 8 week period - $350,000 - $400,000 through 25 businesses alone. ‘Each year the participating business owners are inspired by the results and it is good for the community to understand how much money can be spent in our town,’ Kathryn said. ‘We need to embed a culture of shopping local in every business, club and organisation all year round.’

Arts and Culture connect people

Tanya Black from Cohuna Neighbourhood House spoke about the newly formed Gannawarra Arts Culture and Entertainment Club (the ACE Club) where members come together to attend various arts and cultural events being rotated around the small towns helping to connect people. 'Many Melbourne based performances are being presented and supported by small rural communities, bringing life back into their community halls,' Tanya explained. 'It's a great way to meet new people, and you can be assured of a lovely country spread for supper.'


Congratulations to the Cohuna Neighbourhood House for this great initiative, funded by Regional Development Victoria as part of a larger project, 'This is Cohuna - Celebrating Our Heritage & Unique Neighbourhood Assets.'

Will it be a one off? Given how well it was received I think that another town may well take up the challenge to host this event in the future. Which town will it be I wonder?

WATCH RECORDINGS OF ALL THE PRESENTATIONS (coming soon)

And some more reading that may interest you:

Bakery on Broadway: Wycheproof

Rural Towns Fighting Back: COHUNA

Rural Towns Fighting Back: GIRGARRE

 

RAI How to end regional population decline

Tom Smith - Kia-Ora Piggery


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Why wait for adversity?

 Photograph by Shayne Mostyn Photography, Cohuna

Photograph by Shayne Mostyn Photography, Cohuna

Adversity is a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs. We see it all the time. Someone suddenly loses their job and starts their own business. A major employer closes down and even more people launch a small business or buy into one. There is no doubt that, when pushed, we can step out of our comfort zone and do something that we’ve previously only dreamed of. A regular income holds us back but once it is taken away we suddenly have nothing to lose and are willing to have a crack.

Two questions come to mind. Why are we waiting for adversity before we take positive action? And why aren’t we doing this as a community rather than just as individuals?

I want to pay homage to the communities with vision who understand that we should be nurturing our entrepreneurs and preparing the groundwork long before any hardship hits. Experience has demonstrated to me that those who have already laid the foundations of a collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem are much better equipped to weather a storm.

Many Victorians will recall the shock waves of the Morwell community audibly vibrating through the media all the way to the Victorian State Government’s treasury when the closure of Hazelwood Power Station was announced in late 2016. Even though the storm clouds had been gathering on the horizon for some years, the community still appeared to be visibly shocked when it finally descended.

Despite the digital age and vast information at our finger tips, storms can still arrive unannounced and create much damage. And they come in many forms, not just of the weather variety that rural communities are familiar with.

In April 2016, some months before the Hazelwood announcement, the ‘dairy crisis’ hit a number of rural communities when Murray Goulburn and Fonterra delivered the gut wrenching news to farmers that they were dropping their milk price payments. No, this was not just reducing the farmers’ profits, it created a situation where the cost of caring for and milking their cows was greater than the return farmers would receive.

No doubt many dairy farmers were despairing at the time because their pain was just as great as the Hazelwood workers. And it wasn’t only power station employees and dairy farmers feeling the pain. With lost incomes comes a general downturn in business and a spiral effect across the whole town. Their communities were hurting along with them.

No rural community can avoid these upturns and downturns but some are better equipped than others.

Cohuna in north-central Victoria actively started developing their entrepreneurial ecosystem well in advance. Despite being surrounded by dairy farms and hit hard by the ‘dairy crisis’, Cohuna appears to have rallied more quickly and with less outside assistance than Morwell, primarily because of an embedded collaborative culture.

Enhancing an existing supportive community, Operation Next Gen Cohuna was formed in 2013 to empower emerging community leaders to explore new business opportunities and strengthen their community into the future. The group established a ‘Cohuna Farmers & Makers’ Market that has helped create and promote many micro businesses within the community. An annual event, The Big Cohuna (held over the Melbourne Cup weekend) has provided a creative platform for locals and attracted visitors to their rural town. Multiple events have been held to engage their youth and form strong ties with their home town. Encouraged by a #GetYourBacksideCreekside campaign, new seasonal businesses now operate during the summer period. Another quirky campaign attracted national media and multiple business proposal for a vacant building.

‘Cohuna has experienced some of its best tourism in five years,’ Jennah Martin, a local accommodation provider told the media early this year. It was hardly coincidental that five years is exactly the time frame that Operation Next Gen has been active in Cohuna.

By the time the dairy crisis hit in 2016 it was a natural reaction for the Cohuna community to ask: What can we do to help ourselves? Because of Operation Next Gen and the community’s collaborative culture, much was already in place and individuals were empowered to take positive action.

Dairy farmer, Di Bowles, co-founded a social media platform #DairyLove to support farmers with positivity and the non-farming community was equally active. Local photographer, Shayne Mostyn, convinced his Melbourne based partner to bring their new night photography workshops to Cohuna. ‘It’s only eight people each month but it is eight people that weren’t coming before,’ Shayne says. ‘They come and use the local accommodation and spend their money in town.’

Another huge asset has been the establishment of a RV camping site in a prime location in town. ‘Caravaners stop, walk over to the shopping centre and SPEND money,’ community member Denise Morrison advises joyfully. ‘We have also had at least three new families buy a house in Cohuna to live after they have stayed at the RV because they liked the feel of the town!’

More recently Operation Next Gen Cohuna has launched Cohuna Unlocked, a new autumn event to showcase and stimulate local businesses. And, defying the closure of other milk processing plants in the region, two local business people have also launched a bid to build a new $130 million milk processing plant aptly named NO BULL. ‘Rather than have their milk sent 120 kilometres away, they can have it processed here and that will generate local jobs and help ensure that farmers in this area remain profitable,’ said John Mawson, owner of the local quarry, supported by Cohuna’s veterinarian, Jason Wright.

The list goes on …

Let’s be clear. Nothing happens overnight as it takes time to gather momentum and show positive results. Communities that understand the value of local leadership and building collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystems are much stronger and able to take advantage of new opportunities as well as weather any storm that presents.

Which brings me back to that all-important question. Why are we waiting for things to go wrong when we could be actively looking for opportunities now?

For those communities not waiting for adversity, here is some more information on Operation Next Gen


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of Operation Next Gen and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Rural Towns Fighting Back - Girgarre, Victoria

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BY KERRY ANDERSON

Traditionally a thriving dairy community, the tiny township of Girgarre in north-central Victoria (population 190) first faltered in 1979 when the milk factory shut down.  It later became the Heinz Factory until 2012 when it shut down again.  Then there was the big drought of 2003-04.  Water prices spiraled out of control, depression was rife, and suddenly a once thriving community was in crisis.

Driving into Girgarre on a hot January morning, there aren’t as many dairy cattle visible as there used to be. I also see camel, goat, chicken, horse and pig enterprises popping up on the surrounding landscape. The local news is excitedly reporting a $60 million investment in a new milk and cheese factory, and works have begun on a new botanical gardens expected to cost in the vicinity of $12 million.  

Respectfully, I’d like to suggest that this is not a town on its knees.

Who better to tell the story of Girgarre than Jan Smith, a dairy farmer and former teacher, who is part of the Girgarre Development Committee set up in 2004 to counteract the despair that was mounting in the district as a result of the drought?

‘We put on a barbeque and a bit of entertainment at the produce store,’ Jan recalls. ‘We hoped for 100 but 300 people turned up - I guess it was a safe place to gather.  Bells started to ring. We suddenly saw the need to gather the people together.’

After the success of the barbeque the Development Committee started brainstorming what else they could do.  An idea put forward to run a monthly Farmer’s Market was met with some scepticism, but the committee didn’t have a better idea and decided to ‘give it a crack.’

‘None of this was easy and we just had to educate ourselves along the way. We knew we couldn’t do it all ourselves so involved all the other community groups,’ Jan explains. “The first market had eight stalls and attracted 1,000 people. The CFA manned the barbeque and I invited a few musician friends from Melbourne to come up and entertain at low cost.  The CFA raised $1,000 in one day; where else could they do that?’

One year later, with steady growth and the Farmer’s Market ticking over nicely, Jan invited the musicians back to see what they had helped to start.  Happily they responded and brought more musicians with them.  After playing in the hall they came up with the idea of an annual music festival.

‘Our eyes rolled,’ Jan admits, ‘but what did we have to lose?’ 

The twelfth annual Girgarre Moosic Muster concluded just a few days before I visited.  Each year it attracts more and more musicians from all over the state who not only volunteer to do the organising themselves but perform and run a series of workshops offering 1,400 places at no cost.

Over the past twelve years, David Aumann, a suburban resident of Melbourne, has been a regular volunteer at the Moosic Muster teaching guitar and mandolin as well as playing in a band and singing harmony. 

‘I missed one year when I was on holidays’ he sadly admits but has been privileged to see it grow significantly from its inception.

Chatting with David I get the sense that he very much feels a part of the Girgarre community. ‘We are made so very welcome,’ he says. ‘And we can see what a difference the festival has made to the community.  Everyone keeps coming back and bringing a few more musicians with us each time.’

Naturally the locals also pitch in with selling tickets and catering for the hundreds of visitors to make the event a financial success.

‘As long as we give power to the people we can build pyramids in Girgaree,’ Jan proclaims. And they have a long list of conquests to prove they can.

By involving representatives from every community group, the Development Committee has effectively become the voice of the community and can help overcome obstacles as they arise.

When the Shire Council shut the kindergarten, the Development Group financed the service until another service provider could take over. ‘We have 14 children enrolled this year,’ Jan proudly states. ‘Feeding these children into the school is so important, that’s why we have to retain the kindergarten.’

The tennis club folded so the community and a retired life member rallied to revive it.  Six teams are currently playing.

With the community car on ‘death’s door’ and no money to replace it, the craft segment of the Farmer’s Market was gifted to the Community Cottage to enable them to fundraise for a replacement car.  The Community House created a nursery for this purpose that has now turned into a real cottage industry.

When the RSL came up with the idea of creating a World War 1 monument the Development Group found a suitable space and incorporated a walk.  The Living History Group has published a book, and what else would they call it except ‘Girgarre’?

‘Let someone loose with an idea and it is amazing how it can turn into an even bigger idea,’ admits Jan. ‘It’s about being respectful and engaged with people and their ideas.’

When a former school student said they should run a chook auction, Jan readily admits that she had no idea of what it involved let alone its merit. The recreation reserve now runs a highly successful auction of chooks, ducks and geese as part of the monthly produce market which helps them not only maintain but expand the reserve facilities.

‘We’re very proud of our recreation reserve,’ Jan says. ‘With input from a passionate community and our shire council we have beautiful club rooms, great playing surfaces, a second cricket oval, new netball courts, and now we’re planning for three new tennis courts.’

A community dinner is held every Thursday evening at the reserve. ‘It is beautiful to see dozens and dozens of kids running around,’ says Jan. ‘If you have a priority on family you have it right.’

Despite a very slow start from the bureaucrats, plans for a three mile walking track to Stanhope are well underway.

When the Heinz Factory closed down the Development Committee was gifted with 24 acres of land and 70 megalitres of water located opposite the town’s park.  A dream of having their own botanical gardens was suddenly a possibility.  TLC who designed the much-celebrated Cranbourne Botanic Gardens, was invited to hear Girgarre’s story and took on the project.

‘The project has been costed at $17 million but we think we can do it for $12 million by doing some of the work ourselves,’ Jan explains.  Given their track record so far I have no reason to doubt her.

Works on an amphitheatre and sound shell that sit within the botanical gardens have already commenced thanks to a Regional Arts Victoria grant of $350,000.

 Since writing this article the Sound Shell was officially opened on 21 April, 2018.

Since writing this article the Sound Shell was officially opened on 21 April, 2018.

‘We’ve become a very musical town,’ Jan explains. ‘We’ve restored the hall with our fundraising and the new amphitheatre will allow us to seat another 1,000 people.  A monthly program, Jigarre Jammin, an off shoot from the Moosic Muster, is held in our beautifully restored hall along with a three day camp twice yearly.’

Simultaneously industry is also being reinvigorated. When the Heinz Factory closed it left behind a good base with connected services for new industry to evolve.  Along with the new milk and cheese factory, a grant has also been received to build a bio digestive power plant.  Employment is coming back to Girgarre.

And agriculture is much more diversified. ‘It’s taken ten years but suddenly all this beautiful productive land is coming back to life,’ says Jan.

Hmmm. A community in decline?  I think not.

‘Our community has decided it has a bright future,’ Jan agrees.

Jan’s top tips for rural communities:

  • Nobody is coming to save you. Get off your backside and have a crack!
  • Lose the ‘I’ and find the ‘We’ if you want to change things.
  • Take a little idea and throw it amongst a group of people then sit back and watch them massage it into something fantastic.
  • Don’t race off with an idea without designing it properly. 
  • Leave the tent door open so that others can join in and help. 
  • Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer if it is unacceptable. If there is a legitimate reason find an alternative.

You may also enjoy reading about other rural towns successfully fighting back:

COHUNA, Victoria

MANNING, Iowa

LAMONI, Iowa


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of Operation Next Gen and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Australia Day

Kerry Anderson was delighted to celebrate Australia Day 2018 with the community of Tarnagulla in the Loddon Shire and reflect on why living in a rural town is so great.

Every day is a good day to celebrate living in Australia, especially if you live in a rural town like Tarnagulla. 

Each of us have different reasons why we love living in a rural town. For some it might be a sense of belonging and knowing your neighbours.  For others it could be the quietness and being able to walk your dogs in the bush.  Maybe it is the short commute to work?  And, if you still need convincing, just try driving through Melbourne peak hour some time!

Sometimes we get caught up in the negatives of living in a rural town.  And there are two negatives I hear over and over.

The first is that traditional industries are closing down or becoming more automated which means less jobs.  It’s inevitable so why dwell on the past.  Who wants to work as a manual labourer when a machine can do it for us? 

And the second is that our young people are moving away.  Far from trying to lock our young people up, we need to encourage them to go to university, travel, and experience the big cities. But we also need to let them know that they also have a future here when they are ready to return, usually about the time that they want to raise a family in a nice clean country environment.  This is what the statistics are showing.

As Melbourne chokes and gags, there are great opportunities for rural communities to grow and prosper. There are those who have lived in a city all their life and want to escape.  Think about what skills and capital they can bring to our rural communities.  There’s a place for everyone if you want to make them feel welcome.

I’m part way through reading Footprints across the Loddon Plains by Paul Haw and Margaret Munro.  What a wonderful record it is of our indigenous culture that is only now being recognised and celebrated.

When my children were younger we used to camp on the Loddon River and drive our horses and jinkers into Tarnagulla where we rested them in the reserve over lunch.  I imagine that the Dja Dja Wurrung people may have also rested in this space as they moved around hunting or on their way to meet with neighbouring tribes. 

I get the sense from this book that they were quite nomadic, and I love the reference in the title to footprints.  It reminds me that we are all brief custodians on this land and we are always moving forward. Time does not stand still.

But what are we leaving behind us?  What is our legacy to the next generation?

HONOUR THE PAST

Change is inevitable, but it’s important to honour the past.  Those people who have been before us - the Dja Dja Wurring people and, following European settlement, the pastoralists.  And then came many more people because of gold including the Chinese, Greeks and Italians who made a big impact on new settlements like Tarnagulla.  Imagine the excitement of discovering Poverty Reef and the Poseidon Nugget. It’s difficult to imagine a nugget weighing over 26 kilos!

My home town of Castlemaine was built on gold as were the key buildings still standing today in Tarnagulla.  What a commitment it would have been to invest in building a town from scratch.  And then the gold ran out, as it does.  Those that stayed on invested in agriculture and other micro businesses.  Every rural town is constantly recreating itself to survive.

PRESENT:  What is our contribution to this constantly changing landscape?

As some of you will know, I come from a small business background.  And like many business people I’ve always volunteered for community groups, sponsored events and donated goods and equipment.

I always used to think of business and community as being very separate.  That is, until I took a group of young farmers to visit Tom Smith at Yarrawalla in 2010.  For those of you who don’t know him, Tom is a very successful pig grower who has also been very involved in his local community.

I was trying to encourage the young farmers to think about how they could be innovative in their businesses and also contribute to their community and industry as leaders.  So, after touring the piggery, I asked Tom what he considered to be his greatest contribution to the community. 

What he said changed my thinking entirely.  Tom says that his greatest contribution to the community is to be successful in business.  By employing people they are then able to live in that community, send their kids to the local schools, and spend their money in the local shops.

What a great answer it was.  So, now when I talk about business, I simultaneously talk about community.  One can’t do without the other.  It is also why I called my book Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve been working exclusively with rural towns and I am always intrigued by what makes some towns more vibrant than others.  As usual, it comes down to us, the people who live in that town.  Not the council, not the state government, and not the federal government.  It is us.

I’d love to share with you three stories that I think best demonstrate the power of community and how resourceful rural people are.

1.       2011 Gannawarra Shire Floods

2.       Bakery on Broadway, Wycheproof

3.       Girgaree

These three stories demonstrate the power of collaboration, of people working together for the common good, just like those people being recognised in Australia Day Awards today.  Led by the community for the community.  None of it happens overnight but it can happen.

FUTURE:  How can we look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes?

In a rapidly changing world with an ageing population, we can’t keep on doing the same old.  We have to look to the future and to do this we need to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes.

If anyone watched the Pine Creek episode of Back Roads on the ABC last week you might have noticed when a father and daughter had totally different ideas of what was needed to reinvigorate their town after mining had ceased.  The father said more mining while his daughter suggested environmental tourism. Whose future is it going to be?

As part of the Operation Next Gen program my challenge to rural towns is to create new conversations with new people in new places.  Not the existing leaders who are already busy doing what they do.  Give some new and younger people permission to think creatively and you might be surprised at what crazy ideas might actually become a reality.

While traditional retail shops are closing what else can we use those spaces for?  How can we encourage existing businesses to diversify and new businesses to start up? 

The future of work is changing and this is a great opportunity for rural towns. Instead of employing staff, the big corporates are sub-contracting their work which means that people can live in a rural town and, with the benefit of digital technology, work with clients all over the world.

Over in the United States, there is a new trend suddenly emerging.  San Fransisco has become too expensive for Silicon Valley.  All those big tech companies are looking to the regions for new work locations.

There are so many opportunities for rural communities who can showcase themselves as a great place to live and work.

Our job, as existing community leaders, is to encourage and support a new generation of community leaders to step up and take control of their own destiny. Don’t expect them to come to your community planning sessions or attend traditional meetings.  Take them to abandoned spaces and challenge them to think about what it could become in the future. Let them take the lead.

And finally I want to leave you with one last thought.

We’re very good at pulling together in a crisis. Why can’t we do the same when it is to build a stronger future for our rural town? 

We have the power to collectively make positive change.  It’s up to us.

Kerry Anderson
26 January, 2018

5 Thought Starters

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Before our year gets too busy, it's a great time to think about how we want to make a positive difference in 2018. Here are five thought starters.

#1 Changing the narrative on 'small'

While some 'experts' try and tell us that density of population is required to succeed, there is growing evidence that quality not quantity is the real measure. With plenty of case studies to support this theory, let's start by changing the narrative for small business and communities.

What are shrink smart communities?

Are rural people more entrepreneurial?

#2 The future is already here!

We can't afford to be complacent in a fast changing world. There are so many opportunities but are we recognising them and taking advantage of them?

The 4 kinds of leaders who create the future

How future proof is your business and community?

#3 Equipping young people for a changing world

Learning essential skills and changing the conversation from job seeking to job creation is essential for our young people to succeed.

How education should build the future

Why are so many college graduates unemployed?

#4 Preparing rural towns for opportunity and growth

As our cities get more expensive and crowded there are many opportunities for rural and regional growth but how do you manage it?

Are you ready for a rural and regional influx?

Preparing for rural community growth

#5 Change doesn't happen overnight

Last year I was privileged to assist with a research project on the collective impact of grants distributed by the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) over a sixteen year period.  Measuring outcomes over the long rather than short term is so much more meaningful and something that we should all be building into the programs and projects we contribute to. The following story is a case in point.

What a great outcome that tourism has been significantly boosted over the past four years in Cohuna. It is far from coincidence that Operation Next Gen was launched four years ago and great recognition of the local community that, with strong support from the Gannawarra Shire, took control of its own destiny and created the #GetYourBacksideCreekside campaign.  WIN TV story via Facebook

I'm looking forward to collaborating with you in 2018 to see how we can create positive change for your rural community.

Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Is your rural community ready to establish an entrepreneurial ecosystem?  How can we create a collaborative culture where entrepreneurs are valued, nurtured and supported? Sonia Wright from Operation Next Gen Cohuna joins the conversation.


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE http://www.kerryanderson.com.au/about/

Rural Towns Fighting Back: Lamoni, Iowa

BY KERRY ANDERSON

WHEN the statistics paint a glum picture it’s hard to be a glass half full type of community. How can you turn around a declining rural county that is the poorest per capita and has the lowest land value in Iowa? Sometimes it takes fresh eyes and enthusiasm to help find the answers.  Chatting with Dr William (Bill) Morain, Secretary and Past-President of the Decatur County Development Corporation, it becomes evident that retirees can be a great resource when they return to their roots.

Lamoni in Iowa may have missed out on the rich soils nourished by the prehistoric Wisconsin Glacier but it does have some pleasant hill country suited to raising cattle and hunting and fishing.  It also has a university!

Established in 1895, the privately owned Graceland University is a key player in Lamoni’s success story.   Of Lamoni’s current 2,354 population, 950 are students.  The college owns substantial land and assets; and the alumni have a strong connection with this otherwise agricultural town.

In fact, this is how Bill and his partner Sherry came to retire in Lamoni. ‘We were sweethearts at Graceland in the 1960’s but went our separate ways,’ says Bill explaining the connection. ‘I went on to become a plastic surgeon and Sherry a social worker. We found each other again in the 1990s and returned to Lamoni in 1995 as remarried retirees.’

What they saw on their return was a very different perspective from when they were young students focussed on their future careers.

‘Inertia was a real problem’ says Bill. ‘It wears everyone down when you are a declining rural county that is the poorest per capita and has the lowest land values in Iowa.’

A psychological turning point.

As a retiree helping to reinvigorate an existing volunteer base, the first project Bill worked on proved to be a psychological turning point.

‘With volunteer crews of up to 30 people some days, we built six miles of bike trail along an old railway line,’ explains Bill. ‘I wrote the grant applications and sourced funds. We did our own paving in three sections four years apart. I think we must have had the highest number of PhD’s on a cement crew,’ he quips. ‘The time delay between the projects helped us to forget how hard the work was!’

But turning a community around needs more than ad-hoc community projects and requires regional support.

Take a regional approach.

Renowned for its agricultural industries, Iowa notably consists of many small rural communities.  ‘You can’t get along as a single town, you need to approach it as a regional economy and be prepared to share your resources,’ says Bill who became President of the reformed Decatur County Development Corporation that provides support to towns across the county.

‘We’ve developed some good friends through a regional network,’ says Bill. ‘The Iowa Area Development Group brought us a manufacturing business and, with it, around eight jobs.’

"It gave us a road map."

A master plan gave Lamoni the mechanism to approach the city council and Decatur County Development Corporation for grants and support to major projects. ‘It gave us a road map and cemented our networks with outside sources that came to our aid,’ Bill reflects.

‘$50,000 to fund a master plan was a major undertaking but we approached a number of civic partners and private contributors to get what we needed.’

A big fan of Richard Longworth’s published research, ‘Caught in the Middle,’ Bill says that there are three elements that can positively influence a rural community’s future: an interstate highway, a college, or a lake.

Lamoni was fortunate to tick two of those boxes with Graceland University and nearby Interstate 35.  Not content with two out of three they also investigated building a lake but Bill sadly reports that it wouldn’t have been big enough to be profitable.

Despite a previous lack of venture capital, a $50,000 investment in the master plan and regional partnerships fostered are already showing impressive results for Lamoni.

‘So much is happening all at once,’ exclaims Bill.

The master plan identified that a quality up-scale hotel would greatly benefit the town.  Following a successful feasibility study and agreement of the Graceland President’s family to provide a suitable piece of land, the community set about raising $900,000 with the support of a sympathetic agricultural bank.  Graceland alumni from across the country provided one third of this amount demonstrating strong emotional ties from their student college days spent in Lamoni no matter how far away they now live.  Building commenced in 2016, and on 15 September 2017, a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the opening of the brand new Lamoni Cobblestone Inn and Suites comprising 33 guest rooms.

As a member of the local investment group, Bill had the honour of opening the ceremony and is quoted as saying: ‘We have a special thanks to some very creative people from the middle of Wisconsin, who got the crazy idea a few a years ago that you could put an upscale hotel in a small town and have it do well. It represents the best kind of risk-taking and creativity to make this happen.’

Simultaneously another working group, led by a local crop dusting contractor, put a plan into motion to extend the airport runway from 2,900 to 3,400 feet opening up access for twin engine planes.  In September 2017 Lamoni celebrated their second grand opening within a month including six bays rented out in the new hangar.

Maximising traffic from Interstate 35 has taken a little more thought.  To attract visitors into town simple strategies to beautify the highway and change the signage from ‘two miles’ to ‘just off the highway’ were recommended.  The signage proved simple however the beautification hit a few snags along the way.

‘Essentially we wanted to build a commercial bridge by cleaning up those two miles between the interstate and town,’ says Bill. ‘Repainting a company owned rusty tank was relatively easy but then we had a number of businesses and private properties littered with junk cars that were an eye sore.’ 

Introducing a regulation requiring property owners to erect six foot fencing along the highway met with severe resistance.  An alternative was found and now everyone is smiling. 

Bill is looking forward to next spring as $100,000 of funding has been approved by the Department of Transportation to plant 300 trees, shrubs and wild flowers between the town and interstate.  ‘Where needed we will intensify the plantings and create a green barrier instead of a fence to beautify our town entry,’ Bill smiles.

It has been almost twenty years since the reformation of the County Development Corporation and Bill is philosophic.  In addition to these significant projects, a number of local businesses have also received financial support to expand.  Another good indicator is that the local population has risen by 30 since the 2010 Census.

"You have to have people who are willing to take a risk."

‘You have to have people who are willing to take a risk. Yes, some ideas have gone south but many others have been successful.’

Freedom Racing, a Lamoni e-tail niche business that employs 16 people, is a great example of what has been a success.  While the business originated ten years ago in the owner's house, it has progressively grown to become the largest business in its particular niche in the world, shipping specialised auto parts and tools internationally.  In 2016, recognising the importance of this business to the region, the Lamoni Development Corporation built new premises for Freedom Racing on a lease-to-buy basis with the owner.

Typical of most rural towns, there are still many challenges ahead for Lamoni including keeping their local high school and expanding their tax base to support more development but the community now has a far more positive outlook having put some credible scores on the board.

And Bill’s final word of advice to other rural towns wanting to fight back?

‘I’m a volunteer but every committee needs a full time paid person. When all communities pitched in to form a county-wide development group, we had sufficient funds to hire that person.  No town could have done this alone. It’s absolutely essential to have someone to drive projects and give assistance to entrepreneurs.’ 


And Lamoni is back in the news in 2018 still fighting the statistics!  READ

This article is the second in a series looking at how rural towns are fighting back here in Australia and overseas.

ALSO READ Rural Towns Fighting Back: Manning, Iowa

ALSO READ Rural Towns Fighting Back: Girgaree, Victoria


Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry Anderson works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Rural Towns Fighting Back: Manning, Iowa

By Kerry Anderson

WHEN the tiny agricultural town of Manning in Iowa, United States, maintained its population of 1,500 in the 2010 Census – it actually rose by three people -  there was a collective sigh of relief.  Avoiding the path of many other rural towns with declining populations Manning’s community is determined to fight back.

Chatting with Ron Reischl, Chair of Main Street Manning Business Improvement Committee, I gain some insight into how Manning is approaching its epic battle.  There is much to commend in the way of initiatives but Ron pays tribute to two key factors; a high rate of volunteerism and no ‘turf wars.’

‘There is a sense of volunteerism and willingness in Manning that is generations long,’ says Ron who returned to his home town as a retiree and now volunteers his own expertise and time to local boards.

By way of example he explains how Manning obtained a much-needed hotel for the community two years ago. 

‘In typical Manning style five individuals put together their own informal committee to work out how to go about it. They invested $5,000 in a market analysis report, presented it to three hotel companies and got one to agree to build a new hotel at a cost of $2.2 million. Not only that, they helped to raise the $790,000 local investment required,’ says Ron. ‘They made it happen.’

When it comes to demonstrating the collaborative nature of the community Ron points to Manning being awarded the inaugural Small Business Community of the Year award in 2015.

'There are no turf boundaries.'

‘The City is very involved in economic development, as are the Main Street Manning Board, Chamber of Commerce, and Manning Betterment Foundation. There are no turf boundaries,’ he stresses.

A prime example given of this was when Jaime England, a physical therapist, was looking to return to her home town of Manning. She wanted to open up a new business and identified a vacant building owned by the Foundation which was subsequently offered to her at a purchase price too good to refuse.  The Main Street Board secured a grant and the City’s Economic Development Agency provided a loan with very low interest to help renovate the building to working order.

‘We all work well together,’ Ron says with pride.

Like many rural communities, Manning is very aware of the pattern for young people to leave town for college and careers. It is when they marry that they think about returning home so that their children can also enjoy a clean, green rural life.

When asked what would be the community’s greatest achievements to date, without hesitation Ron lists the main street revitalisation, enlargement of the childcare centre, and the building of a new hospital and hotel.

‘As part of a main street revitalisation in 2015 we renovated 17 store fronts and changed the look of our entire central business district which is three blocks long.’ $800,000 was attracted for this purpose via federal and Manning City grants and private investment. Ron observed that this then spurred additional investment by the owners to fix up the interior of their stores.

With child and health care hot topics in rural Australia I am impressed that such a small community as Manning has both.

‘With 75 to 100 job openings in the district we knew that child care was a major roadblock to growth,’ says Ron.  Not only did the Betterment Foundation build the original childcare centre in 2002, it was expanded in 2016 to provide a total of 84 places.

Built three years ago, their new $22 million hospital, is one of the three major employers in town whose employees use those child care facilities.

Agriculture related industry is the top source of jobs followed by the hospital and school.  The community is working hard to attract more people to return or relocate to Manning to fill these vacancies.

Being a Certified Connected Community by the State of Iowa is a major step forward in this regard. Manning was the first town under 5,000 population to be awarded this status in 2015.  Several Wi-Fi hotspots have been placed throughout the town and high-speed internet connected to major industry, the school and hospital, all of which are considered essential for young people to stay, or return to Manning.

‘It helps that the City owns all the utilities,’ Ron admits, ‘but we still have to do more.’

One gets the sense that resourcefulness is alive and well in this community. They not only partner locally but with larger regional organisations.

'Students bring in new ideas.'

Manning regularly attracts College of Design students from Iowa State University for specific projects. Students helped design new signage as part of the main street revitalisation project.

‘Students bring in new ideas and, if it meets the curriculum, it gives them something meaningful to work on,’ Ron explains.

During another college related project a student photographing the old railroad trestle commented that it was a great place for a park.  A community meeting confirmed this observation and, in typical Manning fashion, it is happening.

‘We decided on an adult orientated park because we already have one for children but of course whole families will still use it.  Instead of swings where children need supervision there will be rocks and logs to climb over within view of their parents who will be making use of the barbeque, sand volleyball and bag games facilities.’

Encouraging young leadership is another key factor in their community moving forward.

‘We aggressively recruit the younger generation to participate in leadership positions,’ Ron admits. On the Main Street Manning Board, there are five men and five women. Seven of the board members are under the age of 40.

Currently another ad-hoc volunteer committee is shaping a social media campaign targeted at the three closest cities. ‘We will be inviting young people to experience the town for a weekend which will help increase revenue and hopefully get them to consider the advantages of our laid-back lifestyle,’ says Ron. ‘Our branding is Manning It’s Refreshing’ and our social media tags will be #ExperienceManning for a day, a week or a lifetime. #ManningItsRefreshing’

Funding of these initiatives is supported by multiple sources.  In this instance the $5,000 marketing campaign, comprising a coordinator and paid advertising, is being funded by the taxes on overnight stays generated by the hotel.  The Main Street Manning Board is certified as part of a Federal program that allows it to access grants, and local taxes are raised through the city specifically for economic development.  A Revolving Loans Fund is also administered by the City providing low cost funds to individual businesses, and the Manning Betterment Foundation is well placed to respond to local needs including economic initiatives.

Volunteers are driving Manning's initiatives.

Despite all this access to funding support, the fact remains that resourcefulness is just as important as resources.  Volunteers are clearly driving Manning’s initiatives. 

The question remains, do they feel as if they are making a difference?

‘It’s hard to quantify but we know that our alumni are moving back,’ says Ron. ‘Housing is another issue with our last new home built in 2014, but currently we have seven new houses being built,’ he adds with a hint of optimism.

Ron and fellow residents are also very aware of the importance of supporting and encouraging entrepreneurs.

‘Even just one successful entrepreneur, supported by a collaborative culture, can reverse population decline and enable a small town to not only survive but thrive,’ says Ron. ‘Puck Custom Enterprises grew from one farmer to a service and manufacturing company that now employs more than sixty people in Manning.  Many young people work here because of this one business.’

Business and community clearly go hand in hand. The efforts of the volunteers contribute to the liveability of the town for business owners and their employees.

As the next United States Census fast approaches in 2020, signs are that there may be a healthy population growth to support all of Manning’s collective volunteerism.


You can follow Manning's progress via Main Street Manning Facebook page and www.manningia.com/


This is the first in a series of articles on rural towns fighting back.

ALSO READ Rural Towns Fighting Back: Lamoni, Iowa

ALSO READ Rural Towns Fighting Back: Girgarre, Victoria


Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry Anderson works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

A Collaborative Culture

Increased connectivity and technology is heralding a new economic era with new opportunities and it is up to us (the people) to take advantage of it. Any community, no matter how big or small, has the capacity to develop an entrepreneur ecosystem if it can embrace a collaborative culture.  And, no, this is not just my opinion.  430 entrepreneurship advocates worldwide agree!

Given that I’ve long advocated that the key to strengthening our rural towns is a ‘whole of community conversation’ focussed on encouraging entrepreneurs, imagine my excitement when I was one of only two Australians invited to attend the inaugural E*SHIPSummit held in Kansas City on 21-23 June, 2017. 

Put 430 diverse entrepreneurship advocates in the room and you will get very different perspectives on what is most important in an entrepreneur ecosystem.  Like myself, a few were involved in broadly based programs, but most work in specialist roles that support start-ups or economic development.

Regardless, we could all agree on one thing.  Actively encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs in every city and town is important and there is not just one way to do it; it has to be a multi-faceted and collaborative approach.

We all had a mission at the summit. To help the Kauffman Foundation articulate why entrepreneur ecosystems are important and provide practical examples of how they can be fostered.

The framework that has resulted from research and discussions to date is delightfully simple and I can’t wait for the extended version to share because this is already a fantastic tool for us all to use.  I particularly fell in love with the graphic above because it aptly describes how an effective framework works and the value that every Pitchfest, start-up conference, and networking event contributes to developing a stronger ecosystem. 

People are undoubtedly the centre of an entrepreneurial ecosystem and where they are able to connect they naturally contribute to an ecosystem. But how do we get them to connect?  Sometimes it is through a program, an incubator, or networking events.  And they naturally gravitate towards each other because of common interests.  In a modern world of technology we can connect in the virtual world as well and I know many successful business people who develop ideas and partnerships through twitter hashtags, Facebook discussion groups and other mediums.

It is important to note that when we are talking about people we are including both the entrepreneurs and the people who support them – the very important champions and convenors. They are the enablers who help entrepreneurs in a variety of ways whether it be as advocates, mentors, investors, or customers. They are the people who influence policy that paves the way for ecosystems to develop.

Talent is another important factor. Nurturing the skills and talent required to drive the entrepreneurial business activities forward is essential. This is why business and educators need to work together so that talent supply and demand are efficiently matched.  In a fast paced world where many future careers haven’t been invented yet agile and adaptable skill sets such as critical thinking and data analysis are far more valuable than a defined career qualification.

In developing the framework we also talked about the need for onramps, an open door providing opportunities to grow networks and encourage new diverse talent to join the conversation.

Intersections was another important part of the framework; places where people can meet to develop ideas and fill gaps or talents.  Onramps and intersections are mostly aided by events bringing people together whether they be in person or in a virtual community.

As people gather together and collectively tell their story and articulate their dreams it makes it possible to articulate the community’s story and help shape your community’s future. Of course this will only be successful if we focus on the positive stories and leave the negatives ones behind.

There was no doubt that increased connectivity and technology is heralding a new economic era with new opportunities and new ways of operating.  It is up to us to take advantage of it.  In fact, with my novel Australian accent, I had the honour of informing the mostly USA delegates that America's old economic development model is officially dead! 

The reality in this modern world of technology is that any community, no matter how big or small, has the capacity to develop an entrepreneur ecosystem if it can embrace a collaborative culture.  Collaboration, cooperation, and trust will inspire people to advance their ideas more quickly, help each other, and be open to new and wonderful ideas never dreamed of before.

Yes, the framework is incredibly important, and if you get that in place along with these seven design principles, then everything else will flow more easily. 

#1Put entrepreneurs front and centre
#2 Foster conversations
#3 Enlist collaborators (everyone is invited!)
#4 Live the values
#5 Connect people (in every direction)
#6 Tell your community's authentic story
#7 Start and be patient

I am pleased to confirm that the Operation Next Gen program and its ‘whole of community conversation’ approachis on the right track when critiqued against these principles.

And now is probably a good point at which I should confess my bias. Perhaps not everyone agrees that small rural communities have the capacity to develop a successful ecosystem of note but I am determined to change that thinking. What the rest of the world and my city colleagues have to understand is that even just one successful entrepreneur, supported by a collaborative culture, can reverse population decline and enable a small town to not only survive but thrive.  While we may not have the physical density of population, we have a vested interest - it is our future at stake.  Rural towns more than make up for lack of density with passion and can access an extended virtual support community.

My sincere thanks goes to the Kauffman Foundation for honouring me with an invitation to the summit and accessing their incredible resources to further this conversation. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with my expanded network of ecosystem builders here in Australia and the USA.

Investing in your home town

For those fortunate to have been successful in life, there is the great privilege of being able to financially support their local community or a cause close to their heart. 

I was reminded of this while visiting Spearville in Kansas recently.  Despite only having a population of 900, this small agricultural town located seventeen miles from Dodge City, is benefiting from a $20 million legacy generating around $200,000 in annual revenue for distribution.

Yes, I have to admit that it took me a moment to process when I first heard that staggering amount of $20 million.  But then I started focusing on the intent which everyone is capable of.

A lifelong resident of Spearville, Tom Feist founded Feist Publications in 1978 which grew into a highly successful business and a major employer for this small community and across the State of Kansas. Prior to his death in 2011 he set in motion something that he knew would continue to give back to his home town well into the future.  A Board of Directors was hand-picked by Tom and his wishes clearly stipulated on what type of projects the Foundation should support.

Operating since 2014, only time will tell how Tom’s legacy will play out as proposals from local community groups are processed and implemented.  Given his business background, knowledge of the community and careful consideration, I suspect it will be far more effective than any government grant program. Already there are signs that the declining population is reversing (the 2010 census noted the population as only 773 while the 2017 figures are estimated by county officials at around 900).

Tom also gave generously during his lifetime.  We see it all the time in Australia as well.  Individuals and businesses investing in community projects and assisting start-ups in their home town.

And the potential doesn’t end there.

When it comes to financing community initiatives and start-up businesses to strengthen a rural town it is natural to look to those who live locally but don’t discount those who may have moved away.

No matter how long ago you lived in a rural town, there is always a strong bond and memories that can never be erased particularly if you were raised or started your business career there.  This is why we have seen founder of the Allied Medical Group, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, chatting with locals at the Birchip races. His first posting as a country general practitioner was in Birchip!

It never ceases to amaze me when I am approached at city events by former country residents keen to chat about their home towns.  They have fond memories and are genuinely interested in what is happening.  Potentially they could be your biggest investor …. but only if you stay in touch and let them know what your plans are.

This is the beauty of social media which allows ex residents to follow local news from afar.  It is also why we should widely consult on community initiatives and let people know what they can support. You never know who is talking to who and what they would like to support.

When we have the capacity to give, there is a great deal of satisfaction in being able to support something bigger than yourself, whether it be giving a helping hand to someone starting out in business or upgrading a community facility.

And, if you don’t have the capacity for your own foundation or trust, and a tax-deductible receipt is an enticement, then the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal or your local Community Foundation will always be happy to have a conversation.

Tom Feist 

Tom Feist Foundation   

FRRR  


ABOUT KERRY ANDERSON:

Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Operation Next Gen

BY KERRY ANDERSON

At some point in time every rural town faces major change. Like every good business the trick is to anticipate that change and explore alternatives well before it happens.  And sometimes, to save your town, it means the whole community has to work together.

"Losing 230 jobs in a town with a population of 2000 would be equivalent to losing 460,000 jobs in Melbourne," wrote Ed Gannon in The Weekly Times as he recently lamented the loss of the timber industry in his home town of Heyfield. He admits that the industry has been under threat and gradually declining over multiple decades but the final blow has still been devastating to the people involved.

Similarly, Morwell in the Latrobe Valley is reeling from the announced closure this month of the Hazelwood Power Station that employs 750 people. A huge impact on another community with a population of just over 13,000 as evidenced by a recent episode of Insight on SBS.

Heyfield and Morwell are far from isolated in this experience. Rural towns world wide are all having to reinvent themselves to survive which is why the Operation Next Gen Program was first developed in Australia to help communities look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes and understand the importance of encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs.

The key is to get the whole community on board and working cohesively together.  Yes, easier said than done, but it can be achieved with a bit of pre-planning, some enthusiastic community leadership, and a lot of good will. 

I have seen the evidence with my own eyes in rural Nebraska where organisations such as the Heartland Center and Center for Rural Entrepreneurship have been tackling the issue of declining rural communities for over 35 years. Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is considered to be the solution to this widespread problem.

A great example of the success of this approach is the rural community of Ord in Valley County.  Ord has a rural population of 2,112 in the township, or 4,647 if you count the whole county.  This community worked strategically and cohesively to turn around huge issues similar to what we are experiencing in many rural towns here in Australia. 

When I spoke with Ord community leaders back in 2013 they had some pretty impressive results to report from their 12 year campaign.  During this period the Ord community had attracted $125 million of private and public investment and created 100 new businesses and 350 new jobs.  The benefits have been wide spread.  In addition to unemployment levels dropping and wages rising, there has been retail growth and the value of properties has risen.   Things are looking much brighter in Ord than they were 15 years ago when they were considering a particularly glum future.

Trust me, this success was not by accident.  A community wide economic plan was agreed upon and a Community Foundation was established specifically for the purpose of supporting new start-up businesses and business expansion.  The County (Shire Council), Chamber of Commerce, School and community leaders came together and all took responsibility to drive various initiatives to ensure the plan’s success.  A paid facilitator helped to keep the key partners informed and engaged.

Oh how I look forward to reporting on similar outcomes here in Australia as part of the Operation Next Gen Program that was first trialled with the rural towns of Birchip, Boort and Cohuna in 2013-14. 

But first we need to establish if a community is ready to successfully take on this challenge.  Here are a few of the key indicators that you can apply to your own community’s state of readiness.

Understanding of the challenges.   What if our community doesn’t understand the issues or the importance of them?  Then this is your number one priority as our political leaders recently discovered in the Federal election.  Don’t wait until you lose a major industry or your last bank or supermarket in town.  Being proactive in analysing the health of your community which is underpinned by the diversity of business and employment opportunities is essential, as is understanding that if business is doing well then so will the rest of your community.

Understanding of the opportunities.  One of our biggest inhibitors is thinking that we have to keep on doing the same old thing in the same old way.  News flash:  Times are changing!  We need to be able to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes in the context of the technological revolution.  By all means celebrate tradition but don’t get bogged down in it if you want to survive.  The future is all about being adaptable and agile.

Engagement with entrepreneurs.  Understanding the needs and desires of entrepreneurs - both young people and those changing careers - and looking at ways that they can be assisted to build their businesses is essential.  They are our future and, even if they do leave town to study and travel, make them feel connected and know they will be supported upon their return.

Strong Leadership.  Not just in council or in our community and industry groups.  We need a network of leaders who proactively collaborate to come up with a big vision plan that has consistency across the whole community.  Invest in your leaders to ensure that they can be strong, positive, consistent and inclusive in their leadership style.

Inclusive.   I cannot stress enough the importance of involving everyone in your community in this discussion.  At the very least they will understand why these plans are important and hopefully they will provide creative input and take ownership of some of the activities.  Get over the silo approach and respect that everyone has different ways of thinking and processing.  Find the initiatives that you can agree on and run with them.  Success will breed success.

Prepared to commit to the long haul.  In what appears to be the era of instant gratification we need to understand that this won’t happen overnight.  We have to be prepared to celebrate the small milestones along the way and keep revisiting that big picture vision to remind ourselves of where our communities are heading.

Do you think your Australian rural town is in a state of readiness for positive change through an entrepreneurial ecosystem? If so, I’d love to hear from you.


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, author, and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s businessBOOK

Solar Relief

BY KERRY ANDERSON

Cyclone Yasi’s destructive path in 2011 provided an opportunity for Trent Small, an enterprising Townsville businessman, to put his creative thinking and practical skills into action. Solar Relief, is being hailed as an important tool for disaster relief and is set to go world-wide with the assistance of investors.

In February 2011, when tropical Cyclone Yasi wreaked its devastation across the south pacific and made landfall in Townsville Queensland, Trent Small and his family were one of thousands affected by power outages for a number of days.

‘We were all rushing out to get ice and generators to try and save our food,’ recalls Trent. ‘At the same time I kept looking at my neighbour’s roof full of solar panels. It seemed crazy that no-one could access the power they were generating.’

With this challenge in mind, Trent set about solving a problem that has taken him in a life changing direction.

Having been through what he calls the ‘school of hard knocks’ Trent was well prepared for such a challenge.  ‘When I left school I started a traineeship with a steel company but I always wanted to start my own business so I also did some Law and Economics at University.’  By age 21 he was self-employed and hasn’t looked back.

When Cyclone Yasi hit, Trent was proprietor of an established business, Absolute Building Supplies, that helped immensely in his new quest to create a portable solar power solution.

Because of the Federal Government’s existing solar scheme, he already had a good understanding of solar technology.  ‘I’d already looked into it and educated myself,’ explains Trent who went on to sell a half dozen of the grid systems before deciding that it didn’t meet his vision for a sustainable future. ‘There were too many people and over-inflated prices with a smash and grab mentality,’ he shrugs. ‘I chose to walk away.’

Trent’s vision was now clearly focused on a portable solar product that could be quickly deployed anywhere in the world at times of natural disaster and crisis.

Almost every week since Yasi Trent continues to see instances where his portable solar power pack could make a difference. At the time of our interview world news was reporting on a power outage at a Uganda Hospital. ‘There were three deaths in three hours,’ recalls Trent. ‘This could be totally preventable.’

A crucial aspect of being portable was the storage of power.  He believed the answer was to develop a diverse product that could be charged in a number of different ways using solar and alternators off a car or generator, as well as be used as a UPS unit and off mains power. Even wind power was thrown into the mix.

In true Australian style he started experimenting with a battery box in an eskie, before progressing to custom manufacturing moulds with input provided by the Australian Defence Force and Emergency Services.

The non-reflective solar panels weigh four kilograms and fold down to 580x580 millimetres. The total weight of a patented PPS (portable power supply) unit starts at 40 kilograms.

Up until this point Trent has invested his own time and money into the product development while his original business, Absolute Building Supplies, is developing a complimentary product; fully recycled, lego style building materials to provide quick and ready shelter following a disaster.

Once Solar Relief hit the point of commercialisation and ticked all the stringent safety regulation standards, it became a separate company and is currently taking pre-orders.  Trent is also seeking investors and talking with potential partners such as the United Nations and Rotary International that can help take the product where it is most needed around the world.

Not only is he passionate about disaster relief, he has a vision for a clean sustainable future for third world countries.

‘I’ve got a product which I now believe is part of the solution to solve world energy poverty,’ he explains. ‘There’s over 2.6 billion who don’t have access to reliable electricity and another 1.3 billion people who don’t have any access to electricity.  We can take solar relief anywhere in the world and put down on the ground in a helicopter in any disaster area.’

Powering communication, lighting and medical devices in a disaster area can clearly save lives.  Not only that, poverty can be alleviated. Trent explains how he and some colleagues recently delivered three PPS units to schools and villages in remote Fiji devastated by cyclone Winston

‘Without power the school couldn’t even print out exams for the kids to do,’ Trent says incredulously. ‘Our Facebook site lights up every day with hits from all around the world, people are crying out for this product.’

Trent is understandably satisfied with his efforts and now wants to get it out to the world.

‘We’ve created something that can really solve a global issue.’


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, author, and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s businessBOOK

A commmunity collaboration success story

BY KERRY ANDERSON

What impact would 20 young professionals have moving into your town?  In 2013 I saw first hand the benefits of a community collaborating on a long term strategic plan to strengthen business.  It didn't happen by accident!

Ord in Valley County, Nebraska is frequently cited as a great example of what a community can achieve and for good reason. This rural town of 2,112 people (total county population 4,647) has strategically worked together to create long lasting benefits. Not by accident they did they attract 20 young professionals within four years of their Community Foundation being established.  This is a resourceful community led by a cross section of dynamic community leaders.

Where progress happens every day

Rural role model: that’s just one name Ord has been called in the past five years. Ord exemplifies a rural community with a vibrant future. Since 2000, the Ord area has experienced over $125 million of private and public investment in our community. Also in that time, Ord and Valley County have witnessed the creation of over 100 new businesses, 350 new jobs, a return to pre-recession unemployment levels, strong per-capita wage growth, retail growth and property valuation increases. Out here in Ord we carry a boot-strap mentality: we build a bright future for ourselves.
Ord is more than just the rural standard when it comes to economic growth. Working in Ord also brings the best aspects of living in a small town: zero commute, a low cost of living and high civic engagement. You have the time, resources and community connections which can truly  make you happy. It doesn’t hurt that Ord is located on the eastern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, one of the most beautiful places in all of the Great Plains.
Whether you choose to be a business owner or work in our community, you’ll find Ord is a small town that exemplifies the Best of the Good Life.
Careers in Ord and Valley County has a strong need for workers in  specific  industries. Careers can be found in professional services, skilled trades, renewable energy, agriculture, manufacturing and retail to name a few.
2013 excerpt from: www.ordnebraska.com

How do they fund it?

Sales Tax Program for Economic Development: The Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (LB 840) was approved by Ord voters in 2001 for to create our sales tax program for economic development, a financing tool to fund existing business needs, the development of new business start-ups and economic develop- ment site improvements. One major program feature includes a low-interest loan business program for business lending throughout Valley County. To date, over $2 million dollars have been loaned out to over 40 local businesses in Ord and the surrounding communities.

Valley County Community Foundation: Established in 2000 as an off shoot of the Nebraska Community Foundation, the Valley Foundation focusses on the four pillars of:

LEADERSHIP

PHILANTHROPY

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

YOUTH

Attracting the support of local donors, grants and bequests, the foundation has built up to just over $500,000. In one year alone (2012) it distributed $45,000 of assistance to community activities aligned with the four pillars.

What do they do?

Start simple and build on it seems to be the philosophy of this community.  Here are just a few examples:

Young Professionals Group: Regular social outings to help engage and retain those young people that they have worked so hard to attract.

Entrepreneurship Innovation Camp: During the summer break an annual four day camp is offered to 40 youth free of charge enabling them to develop and launch their business ideas. At the conclusion of the camp they sell or promote their wares at an open market day.

Youth Business Discovery Day: An annual day conducted jointly by the schools and local businesses to highlight business as a career pathway.

Youth Entrepreneur Showcase: The inaugural Y.E.S. event was conducted in 2013 with an impressive list of activities being offered for students to develop and showcase business ideas.

Scholarships: The Fund offers three $100.00 scholarships to young leaders residing in the area to attend an annual youth leadership summit to encourage leadership development and local engagement and civic service.

Ord Area ChamberBucks: Personal cheques that can be spent at any member business.

Who drives it?

 The Ord Chamber of Commerce celebrates every new enterprise with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The Ord Chamber of Commerce celebrates every new enterprise with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Chamber of Commerce:  Much like our Progress Associations, the Valley Chamber membership comprises of businesses, service organisations and groups alike; everybody from the health service to the Rotary Club; even individuals.  Membership starts at $25 for youth, $100 for home based businesses and then scales up to $1,000 for the big corporates. Apart from the usual benefits, some of the incentives include 0% loans for store front improvements and virtual store fronts. Ribbon cutting ceremonies support new openings. The list goes on ...

Economic Development Board:  The Valley County Economic Development Board serves as the primary facilitative organization for economic growth and development. Ord is Nebraska’s first Certified Economic Development Community. Eight finance options are available to startups and businesses wishing to make improvements or expand.

“The connection between our business community and our youth is imperative to our continued success in growing our economy and creating opportunities for our youth to return home after college to raise their families and begin their careers or start a business.” Bob Stowell - Valley County Community Foundation Fund Chairman

READ:  Is your community ready to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem? by Kerry Anderson on LinkedIn 

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KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

MEET KERRY IN PERSON:  During August Kerry is sharing her knowledge on entrepreneurship as part of the Small Business Festival in Melbourne (8 Aug), Geelong (19 Aug) and Bendigo (31 Aug).  READ MORE 

Co-operatives: Time for a resurgence?

BY KERRY ANDERSON

GLOBAL disruption over the next few decades will herald a resurgence of interest in co-operatives.  At least, this is what was suggested at a recent forum held in Melbourne.

Ever since the 19th century industrial revolution co-operatives have been formed world-wide to seek equity and access for their members.  Some co-operatives have been spectacularly successful and others have fallen by the way.    Everything from finance to electricity and pharmaceuticals has been formed through co-ops although increasing regulation is now making some sectors more difficult as a start-up.

Co-operatives are also common in rural Australia which got me wondering exactly what role they are currently playing and how they will be placed for the future. 

From what I can derive, they are usually established in a rural context for one of two reasons.

One is to meet a gap in a local service.  Thirty years ago, this was to provide childcare, as was the case in my home town of Castlemaine.

In small rural towns, some retail outlets have closed doors only to reopen as a co-operative; everything from the local pub to a supermarket.  Considered integral to the community’s wellbeing, sometimes the general store is all that is left in a small agricultural town like Culgoa.  Or towns like Sea Lake just don’t want to see another business close its doors as was the case when a co-operative recently took over the hardware store.

The second most common reason why a rural co-operative is formed is when primary producers seek to maximise profits by getting more control over the distribution and sale of their raw product. 

For instance, the Berriwillock Grain Storage Co-Operative pooled their capital to build bunkers and silos strategically located for its 30 members.  This enabled them to cut out the middle man and sell direct to end users. 

Not everyone goes down the co-operative path.  Five pork growers at Cohuna formed Pentagon Feeds as a company and have also enjoyed significant benefit.

Yes, there are the horror stories of the big co-operatives that have hit troubled waters.  But, while they are managed closely by the members, there is far greater control even though no guarantees on a return are offered.

As I explore the important role that business plays in the health of rural communities, I can see that co-operatives do fit into the mix.

Not only do they help share the risk and benefits, as well as create employment opportunities, co-ops are a great opportunity for rural people to develop valuable skills whether it be governance, customer service, cash handling or stock control.  And the children of the co-op members also have access to that same skills development as they grow up in a community environment.

Co-operatives with clear objectives and led by the community for the community, can be successful despite a dwindling population.  The challenge is to continue to innovative and look for new opportunities in a rapidly changing landscape.

The future of our rural towns depends on it.


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities. READ MORE

New life for old industrial site

BY KERRY ANDERSON

HAILED as the latest vibrant and exciting tourist destination of central Victoria, The Mill Castlemaine is providing inspiration to other rural towns who want to breathe a new lease of life into their old industrial sites.  But, be warned, it’s not a task for the faint hearted.

Often large industrial buildings struggle to find a new purpose and can present more challenges than are evident to the naked eye.  Castlemaine’s former Woollen Mill dating back to 1875, and ravaged by fire on at least two occasions, fits perfectly into this category.

When the old mill site came up for tender in 2013, it was fortuitous that it caught the eye of farmer and stay at home dad, Phil McConachy.  Phil and his partner Ronnie Moule, a local General Practitioner, were looking for a suitable piece of land to establish a potential self-storage business as an alternative income to their sheep farm that has been significantly destocked in the continuing dry conditions.  While considerably larger than required, they saw the potential of the site.

“At first we thought it was too big but let’s have a go,” says Phil.  “We saw the potential for a market of some kind, worked out some rental estimates, and took it from there.”

With the aid of a building valuer and town planners they put together a bid.

As fate would have it, the tender was initially awarded elsewhere but after the buyer defaulted it came back to the McConachys.  Suddenly they were owners of 26,000 square metres of real estate with 9,000 square metres of industrial buildings ranging in age from 1875 to 1996.

During the tender process Phil had spotted the owners of a local café and coffee roasting business checking out the site for a potential expansion of their business, so it was natural to have a conversation with them.  It was not long before they had their first tenant, a core one at that, signed up but there was still a long way to go.

Working with council has been an integral part of the process.  With such a high profile site Phil says they have been determined to “keep squeaky clean” despite the many stories of the slowness of councils and some people reportedly going ahead and getting approval afterwards.

“After a lot of negotiation with the local council we got an overall planning permit for the site but it has been a bit of a regulatory nightmare,” admits Phil.

One of the many hidden surprises was when the entire fire hydrant system had to be upgraded from 80mm to 100mm pipes even though they already had double the flow and triple the water pressure required by the regulations.

“There is no negotiation with regulations; it’s just black and white,” shrugs Phil. “On reflection, if we’d engaged an architect in the first place it could have highlighted some of these issues but then we would not have bought the site.”

With 80 percent of the site now leased to a mix of food and hospitality vendors, manufacturers, and retail outlets, Phil says that the site has grown organically of its own accord into a vibrant hub.

While his star tenants, Edmund and Elna Schaerf, took charge of converting the space beneath the iconic chimney into the now very popular Das Kaffeehaus, Phil looked after the rest of the site.

“We waited for the tenants to arrive and then constructed the spaces to meet their needs.  Some have been start-ups, others have expanded from a home business to a commercial site, or just needed a bigger space to grow their business.”

A secondary consent application is submitted to council for each new tenant. 

“New tenants who fit into the industrial zone can come in without council approval but we consult anyway,” says the ever cautious Phil.

Initially frustrated by the limited staffing and delayed responses from the planning department, the relationship has improved with time especially when the head of department noticed emails being sent by Phil at 4.30am in the morning.

“We now have a system in place and are getting better at it,” he is pleased to report.

Drawing on his previous skills as a fitter and turner and owner of an earthmoving construction business, Phil has supervised all the works on site.  Numerous trades, the majority of which are local, have been contracted for the major works and two carpenters and a labourer continue to be engaged on a permanent basis.

Having survived the stress of getting the site operational and it rapidly gaining momentum as a tourist destination, Phil and Ronnie decided in late 2015 that it was time to give serious consideration to the branding. 

“We wanted to honour the site as well as Castlemaine which gave us The Mill Castlemaine.”

His focus has now turned to attracting the Melbourne market to visit Castlemaine.

“Cross promotion is very important with all the tenants and the whole town.  We’re not competitors, we’re all in this together.”

Today, looking decidedly relaxed and rightfully satisfied with the results of their endeavours, Phil is comfortable reflecting on the challenges of the past three years.  While an old bus parked at the back of the site still acts as his office, he now has the luxury of meetings over coffee in Das Kaffeehaus where the waiters know him by name.

Without a doubt, The Mill Castlemaine has reinvigorated the opportunities for small businesses and employment in the town at a time when inconsistent seasons are making farming difficult.  As a parent of four boys aged 10 to 20, one of Phil’s motivations is that The Mill Castlemaine also offers them the option to live and work in their home town in the future. 

“If we’d known the complexities we probably wouldn’t have bought the site,” Phil says. “But I’m glad we did,” he adds with a smile.

http://millcastlemaine.com.au/

Phil’s top tips

  • Get town planners with experience in large projects, and preferably an existing relationship with your local council, involved right at the beginning.
  • Go to your council and get their support before you spend any money. 
  • Find a bank manager that understands business and develop a strong relationship with them.

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

www.kerryanderson.com.au

Community Partnerships

BY KERRY ANDERSON

EVERY time I get asked to share my tips on successful grant seeking I always steer the conversation in another direction. 

"First," I say, "we need to talk about partnerships investing in community."

Partnerships, collaboration, call it what you want; the fact is that no-one can successfully conceive and drive a business or a community project to fruition on their own.  Even the most dynamic entrepreneur needs a skilled team around them.

Likewise a community project should start with a think tank to make sure that everything has been properly considered.  It also requires carefully selected partners to make sure that it will succeed.

Yes, there is often one person or a small group of people who drive the project and make it happen.  The smart ones, however, encourage many others to come along on the journey and share the accolades.  It’s called buy in.

They understand that success is less likely when dominated by an individual or one group. They also understand that it is about investing in outcomes that benefit a community as widely as possible. 

One strategic project can often meet multiple needs for multiple groups and this is music to an investor’s ears.  It is not about who can get the money, it is about who can provide the best return on investment to their community.

Last year I had the pleasure of working with the Northern Mallee Community Leadership participants in Mildura.  Participants worked together in small groups to scope up a self-selected project put forward by one of the group members.  Using their collective ideas the groups immediately added value to the planning process identifying potential partners and additional benefits beyond the capacity of just one person. 

In SharkTank style the groups then pitched the community project to potential investors inviting spirited questions and providing equally articulate answers. 

My point is, community partnerships can work really well if you give them a try.

 Some SharkTank fun with Northern Mallee Leaders during a 2015 Strategic Grant Seeking Workshop.

Some SharkTank fun with Northern Mallee Leaders during a 2015 Strategic Grant Seeking Workshop.

Now I can share!  CLICK HERE to download a free copy of my Grant Seeking Tips

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

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