15 Acres

We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, however the Cohuna-Leitchville district in northern Victoria has taken it a step further. They are nurturing and encouraging young entrepreneurs!

January 14, 2018 was a special day for the Taylor family at Leitchville. Not only was it their pop’s birthday, it was the launch of Cooper (12) and Bailey (15) Taylor’s business, 15 Acres.

Their mother Kellie recalls the day that Cooper came home and announced that he had bought a business. ‘You haven’t,’ was her reply. He had. And, after spending some time with Cooper, it is easy to understand how. This gregarious pre-teen doesn’t lack in confidence and I have no doubt that he could sell ice to the Eskimos if required.

For some time prior Cooper had been earning his own pocket money by selling eggs from the twenty chooks he kept at his family home but it was proving to be problematic. ‘People wanted heaps of eggs and I didn’t have enough.’

Having received lots of advice from a ‘mate’ on a nearby property who also produced eggs but on a much larger scale, Cooper was wildly excited when the mate said that he was selling up. When Cooper was offered 160 chooks, two Maremma guard dogs, and two caravans he had no hesitation in saying yes which brings us back to a sudden announcement to his parents that he’d bought a business. ‘Well I haven’t actually paid him yet,’ admits Cooper. ‘But I will one day. He just wanted someone to love the chooks as much as he did. I don’t like factory farms, that is my pet hate.’

At the same time his older brother, Bailey, had been seeking a part time job, not always easy when you live some distance out of town and don’t have a license. This new business presented an opportunity for both brothers. It was then up to the boys to come to an agreement on what their responsibilities would be in the business.

‘Bailey isn’t a morning person,’ Cooper is quick to share. ‘I do the morning chores and most of the infrastructure stuff.’

The much more quietly spoken sibling, Bailey, explains that his role is to collect the eggs at night and look after the larger chooks and dogs. Cooper has been responsible for growing 200 chickens that are about to graduate to free range in the paddock. A bit of disagreement breaks into the conversation at this point. Cooper wants to dispute who is responsible for what. You know; that normal sibling rivalry stuff.

Quickly moving on, I ask: Why call their business 15 Acres? ‘Well the previous business was called 400 Acres,’ Cooper clarifies successfully distracted. So, no need to ask how big their property is then!

Kept safe by the two Maremma dogs, Falcor and Jane, the chooks free range in the paddock while roosting and laying in the caravans that have been converted for their exclusive use by the boys’ Pa. It seems that a number of additional caravans have been donated by various people around the district. A heat lamp was also provided free of charge and another local businessman has offered to build them a website. ‘People are really nice and willing to help,’ Cooper acknowledges.

Everything he has learnt about caring for chooks and preparing eggs for market has been from his mate and from watching videos on You Tube. ‘I haven’t read any books,’ Cooper admits.

Just coming out of the moulting season with reduced eggs to sell, he says that this is a challenge when supplying their customers that includes six local eateries and the Farmers & Made in Cohuna Market on the fourth Sunday of every month. ‘We’ve been offered another caravan that we hope to use for the markets; we just need time to convert it,’ Cooper says. Pa must be busy is what I'm hearing.

Time is definitely a challenge even for teenagers. ‘I’ve got eight hours at school each day including bus travel, and then I’ve got sport as well.’ Cooper glances at the clock as he is due to leave for a football match playing for Leitchville Gunbower Under 12’s very shortly. Sport is extremely important in a rural community.

Let’s talk money I suggest and ask Bailey if it has been worthwhile. ‘I’m glad that I did get involved,’ he says. ‘It’s going well at the moment and we should do well in the future as the layers pick up.’ Usually on a Sunday the boys convene at the kitchen table to assess their cash flow. The profits are split up while leaving a set amount in kitty to cover change and feed costs.

At this point Cooper cuts in to accuse his mother of helping herself to a bit of petty cash on a few occasions. ‘She treats it as an ATM,’ he claims. This argument suddenly falls flat when I ask how much they pay her to cover the transport expenses of delivering the eggs, going to the markets, and collecting the chook feed supplies. 66 cents per kilometre is the going rate I helpfully point as Kellie chuckles in the background. Cooper is momentarily silent.

With another successful diversion in place I wonder how they established their retail price?  ‘We started at $5 per dozen but put it up to $6 for the market,’ Cooper bounces back. He is clear on what their expenses are. ‘It costs $450 to fill the big container,’ he explains. ‘If we bought 20kg bags it would cost a lot more so we buy in bulk which reduces the cost per kilo.’

Kellie has helped the boys to establish a business page on Facebook and a business card; however, it seems that word of mouth is pretty much doing the job for them.

It would appear that everyone in the district is keen to nurture more young people to experience and develop business skills, and these two enterprising brothers are only too happy to take up the challenge.


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

OPERATION NEXT GEN COHUNA:  Read on if you'd like to know more about how you can establish your own collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem.  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

Just one step

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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The day that 22-year-old Brendan Earl decided that he wanted to take control of his own decision making was the day he decided to go into business for himself.  Fast forward seven years and this savvy young man from Collie in Western Australia is already specialising, expanding his business and has exciting plans for the future. This is just one step in his journey Brendan says.

Like many young men Brendan Earl prefers hands on learning and didn’t particularly like school. Fortunately, being raised in a small business family, he was better prepared for business than others. ‘As soon as I could push a wheelbarrow I was working weekends and school holidays for my father’s construction business,’ he recalls.

After finishing year 10 he took on an apprenticeship with a local firm, All Tech Plumbing. ‘I chose plumbing for the money,’ he admits. ‘At that time in my life I wanted to do a trade and people said that plumbers get paid the best out of all the trades, I really didn’t know any better.’

A talent for football (AFL) saw him playing in Perth for a few years which took him back to the family business. ‘Working with dad gave me the freedom to travel back and forwards from Perth several times a week,’ he explains.  A run of injuries put an end to his football career, so he became more focused and, in many ways, this setback helped to launch his business.

‘The day that I wanted to start taking control of my own decision making was the day that I decided to work for myself “become my own boss”,’ says Brendan. ‘To be honest, at that time in my life I had no real idea about business, so I pretty much winged it at the start and worked hard.’ He also found himself an accountant and a book keeper to set up everything for him. ‘We started with a MYOB accounting system, but I now have great admin support and we use Xero which is more efficient and easier.’

Brendan thought that being a local and having a good reputation would give him a head start in his business journey. He was wrong! He quickly discovered that a personal reputation and a business reputation are two complete different things and had to work hard to prove the value of his new business.  ‘It was always hard to get on to tradespeople in a mining boom, so I was on call 24/7 in the beginning trying to break into the market and not wanting to lose a job. It was a bit tough not knowing when your next job is going to be,’ he admits.

A lot has changed from those early years of being in business. With a drive to improve himself and work smarter in his business, Brendan continually learns from his mentors and attends numerous business and networking events.

‘I understand business a lot better now. I learned by my mistakes and the mistakes of others. It’s a great way to learn as I don’t have to make the same ones.’

Through his observations, and wanting to have a business model that works for him, Brendan noted that clean treated water was becoming more of a commodity. With people becoming a lot more health conscious the need for water filtration was becoming more apparent.  It was at this moment that Calybre Plumbing & Gas was transformed to Keip Filtration.

‘The goal with Keip Filtration was to build an asset and provide a service. For example, on a residential scale anyone can walk into Bunnings or a hardware store and buy a filter then get any plumber or handy man to install it. They don’t necessarily know the quality of the product or installer and end up paying top $ for it then it’s forgotten about,’ he explains, ‘but Keip filtration provides the full service.  We supply only top-quality products at great prices which are then installed and maintained by a specially trained and licensed plumber.’

By specialising Brendan has transformed his business in a number of positive ways. For a start he has expanded his business base across a wider region - providing water treatment for mines, vineyards and hospitals, wheatbelt farmers and a variety of domestic customers. In fact, this service is now going Australia wide.

Work has now dramatically changed for Brendan. He now has a lot more time to work on his business rather than in his business.  ‘When you are plumbing you are on call 24/7 but when you go into filtration you can schedule the work in, it’s not as urgent. This allows me more freedom to build the business exploring different business ideas and opportunities.'

This has also helped his cash flow as he has found that customers pay better. ‘If it’s a breakdown then it’s usually not budgeted for,’ he explains, ‘whereas generally if they decide they want their water treated they plan for it in their budget.’

Scheduling regular filter replacements provides additional customer service. ‘When a filter is installed the customer can forget about it. They automatically go on to an automated maintenance program which is ongoing, and I can schedule to suit both the business and the customer.’ This adds significant value to Brendan’s business. A database has more resale value than goodwill he astutely observes.

With a business partner Brendan is exploring a new water filtration project on a much grander scale, collaborating to bring new technology to Australia in 2019.  After reading an article about high levels of nitrate, uranium and arsenic in water, he is also starting a fund to raise money to treat water for remote aboriginal communities.

As a young indigenous man Brendan has never tapped into financial assistance. ‘I wasn’t aware of any financial assistance for indigenous businesses at the time I started,’ he admits, ‘but like everything else government funded, it’s not just handed to you, you have to jump through lots of hoops. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it.’

In fact, Brendan has been lucky enough – albeit through hard work and sacrifice - to self-fund his business right from the beginning not having to take out a loan of any kind. With new business plans he hopes to stick with this trend having business savings and a good revenue stream. Having seven years of a successful business makes all the difference.

Reflecting on his achievements to date Brendan says he is proud to be a young man in business. ‘In the beginning it was tough. My friends were making good money while I was just getting by day to day, but seven years down the track I’m in a good position.’

‘This is just one step in my journey,’ Brendan cautions. ‘Collie is where I love to live but the world is a small place. I’m always looking for the new ideas and big opportunities. I like change and I love a challenge.’

Brendan’s top business tips

  • Do your research.
  • Start
  • Set Goals
  • Give it a go.
  • Work hard
  • Stick at it.
  • Ride the roller coaster.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Fail Fast

www.keipfiltration.com

FOOTNOTE:  We are delighted that Brendan is involved in the Operation Next Gen Collie discussions exploring ways to strengthen his home town into the future. Congratulations Brendan on also being named a finalist in the South West Small Business Awards!


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

Celebrating Rural Women

(L-R) Jenni Finn from Factory and Field in Cohuna, Lauren Mathers from Bundarra Berkshires in Barham, and Andrea Harrison from Kawaii Kids in Birchip, engaged in conversation with Kerry Anderson to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October, 2017.

(L-R) Jenni Finn from Factory and Field in Cohuna, Lauren Mathers from Bundarra Berkshires in Barham, and Andrea Harrison from Kawaii Kids in Birchip, engaged in conversation with Kerry Anderson to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October, 2017.

On 15 October, to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women, Kerry Anderson invited three female entrepreneurs to share their inspirational stories of starting a rural business.

What a pleasure and privilege to have these three dynamic and extremely busy women together in a room sharing their passion for starting a rural based business.  Their introductions alone were inspirational.

Jenni Finn: Factory and Field, Cohuna 

LINK TO FACEBOOK PAGE

When Cohuna teenager Jenni Finn got a casual job in an orange juice factory in the 1980’s she had no idea that one day she would own that historic building – originally a butter factory - and establish one of her home town’s most successful businesses in recent years.  Tucked away on a back road in an industrial estate, Factory and Field is not exactly where you’d expect to find a popular home wares and gift store and that is part of its charm.  Opened in somewhat of a rush in September 2013, Jenni’s vision is rushing ahead in leaps and bounds as she continues to bring her ideas into reality across the four acre industrial site.

Andrea Harrison: Kawaii Kids, Birchip 

LINK TO WEBSITE

What do you do when you live in an isolated rural community and can’t buy shoes for your toddler?  Well, if you’re Andrea Harrison from the agricultural town of Birchip, you start up your own online business, Kawaii Kids, importing children’s shoes and clothing.  Operating from the family home; clothes were stored in industrial containers in the back yard and a laptop on a small desk in the hallway acted as a business hub.  Fast forward a decade, Andrea has opened a retail store in Horsham and collaborated with retailers Australia wide to manufacture a specialist baby range. 

Lauren Mathers: Bundarra Berkshires, Barham 

LINK TO WEBSITE

In 2009 a lone Berkshire sow ‘Doris’ was the beginning of what Lauren Mathers envisioned as a whole herd of free roaming black heritage pigs rooting about improving the soil.  “Bundarra” is Lauren’s family free range Bio-dynamic farm on the Murray River just outside the small township of Barham in Southern NSW. The farm itself was dormant land that she and husband Lachlan saw potential in and, after years of patience, the farm was finally theirs.  Not content with just breeding, Lauren learned the skills of butchery and in 2013 started processing all meat onsite.

How did they gain the confidence to start a new business venture?

Research has shown than over 30 percent of people are more likely to go into business if they know someone in business, most often a family member or close friend.  In Jenni and Lauren’s case this happened to be their grandmothers who had also started businesses.

‘Nanna comes into Factory and Field and likes to remind me that it is all because of her,’ Jenni confided with a laugh.

Confidence is a huge impediment to anyone starting out in business especially for rural women with no formal business skills. 

A classic attribute of an entrepreneur is a quiet self-belief in themselves.  Rather than blindly take a leap of faith they avidly research to the point where they are both excited and confident that they have a great business idea.

All three women alluded to this as they spoke about their vision and the determination to bring their new businesses into reality.

‘You have to have an appetite to take a risk,’ Lauren admitted.

Andrea, who lays awake at night dreaming of all the things she would like to do, believes that you have to be passionate about what you do otherwise you wouldn’t do it.

Overcoming financial barriers.

One of the biggest hurdles in establishing a business is accessing finance, and right from the start it became evident for each of the women that a business loan from a bank is not the answer.

Jenni’s advice is ‘don’t accept the first no.’  Factory and Field was born in a bit of a rush; three months to be exact.  She made the decision in July, purchased stock at a trade fair in August and opened in September.  While the bank had been happy to support the purchase of the building, it wasn’t prepared to finance the business.  Undeterred Jenni gave the building a bit of a tidy up and used her personal credit card to purchase stock.  Thankfully she sold out on opening night and had the cash to stock up for the next influx.

Andrea and Lauren also found alternate ways of funding their business activities.

Andrea managed to self-fund the start of her business but recalls how a bank wouldn’t loan her money to expand despite the impressive cash flow figures she presented. Having no credit history was a bitter lesson.

Financial pressure can be felt every time there is a major investment in stock or improvement to the business.  Cashflow is crucial.  At times Andrea admitted to anxiously waiting for the EFTPOS sales to be deposited into her account just to cover her expenses.  While determined to keep the business separate from the family assets, at one point the family car was sold but thankfully it was a short term solution.

In 2014, a commercial kitchen was required when Lauren wanted to take her business a step further making traditionally cured pork products to sell online and at Farmers Markets. Cashing in on the great goodwill there is for free-range products, she used a crowd funding platform, Pozible, to successfully raise $18,000 ($3,000 more than required) for the project.

The panel agreed that it was worth looking at other short-term options such as a personal loan or through an online lender such as Prospa.  While the rates are higher, they are far more accessible.

Balancing business and family life.

With Lauren a mother of three, and Andrea a mother of four, they clearly rely on a lot of passion and drive to nurture a young family and business at the same time.  It’s not always easy but business does have some advantages over a 9 to 5 job.

‘I work every spare minute that I have,’ Lauren admitted. In addition to a little bit of child care relief, she often works into the night as and when the need arises. ‘It gets me ahead and puts me in a better place.’

Child care is also a lifeline for Andrea especially when she heads to the retail store in Horsham. Her time is much more flexible at home dealing with the online side of the business. 

‘I couldn’t do this without the support of Daniel my husband,’ she is quick to acknowledge. ‘And when he is busy with cropping on the farm I have to hold back on my business so he can concentrate on what he needs to do.’

Like many children of working parents their children grow up thinking it is normal to be in a work environment.  Their mothers are role models demonstrating that it is possible to control your own destiny in a rural town.

Jenni’s children were teenagers when she started her business giving her much more freedom to put in the long hours although she does admit that perhaps they were a little ignored. ‘I don’t think they really cared at that age,’ she smiles.

Already her 16-year-old daughter is working part time in the business and has developed valuable skills.  ‘My daughter is capable of running the business and has already done so when I can’t be here.’  There will be no shortage of opportunities as Jenni prepares to open another business, Factory and Field Waffles in the main street of Cohuna.

Despite the hard work and frequent frustrations, Jenni, Andrea and Lauren clearly love being in business.

‘The best thing about being in business for me is the satisfaction I get from people picking up my garments in store and loving them, without knowing that they were once only an idea in my head,’ explained Andrea.

It was of significance that this celebration was held at Factory and Field.  Four years ago, as part of an Operation Next Gen conversation, I brought a group of local leaders to this vacant building and challenged them to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes.  Jenni did exactly that and, within six months, this old butter factory was experiencing another exciting chapter in its long history.  

With the vision, passion and determination of an entrepreneur anything is possible, especially with a supportive local community.

 

Kerry Anderson, author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business, works with rural towns all over Australia.

www.kerryanderson.com.au

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/

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

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