“Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown – waiting for something or someone to show you the way” – Pink Floyd, 1973 (from the song Time).
This is my last column for the News as Committee for Greater Shepparton CEO. What a privilege it has been to do this job. It is an amazing region and advocating for it with authenticity is easy. It has economic opportunities, beautiful landscapes and a community spirit that says, “anything can be achieved”. From some difficult times coming out of the millennium drought, Greater Shepparton has seen a resurgence, and a major challenge now is keeping up with the momentum. I really believe that the Committee, and the members that drive and fund it, have been part of that resurgence, along with other dedicated and determined community leaders.
To rest on one’s laurels is to invite a downturn though. There are things that need to improve for our region to really achieve it’s potential. Critically, the growing economy needs to work for everybody. That is a key aspect of us caring for one another. A strong economy cannot be an aspiration in itself. It should be a vehicle to improves people’s lives. Whether wage earners or business owners, financial security is important, but so is the sense of achievement and camaraderie that comes with work. The skills, opportunity and encouragement need to be provided for all in our community. And those opportunities should be taken advantage of.
Our growth is impressive but risks running into some roadblocks. The two that stand out are skills and accommodation. Business sectors cannot grow without labour – ranging from low-skilled to highly professional. The solutions are two-fold; to bring people in (short term) and grow our own (long term), but most sectors are suffering a crippling shortage. The second point, accommodation, is related to the first. It is a messy amalgam of local and state government processes, but for a variety of reasons, our residential land development strategies are not keeping up with the demand. If people can’t find somewhere to live, they won’t come to work, and we end up in a cycle that slows us all.
Our agricultural industries and general liveability are threatened by climate change and more unpredictable weather patterns. It is a global problem requiring a global solution, but there is opportunity for our region to use its renewable energy resources and appetite for technology to contribute to the momentum towards net zero emissions.
These challenges are not insurmountable, and there are several positive initiatives underway. There are many different opinions as to what we should do and how to we should do it. In a polarized society with the social media echo chambers, there is a tendency to abuse each other for our disagreements. But we should resist that and keep the discussion constructive, because there is plenty of common ground on which to kick around.