Employment Matters

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December 2004, Volume 15, Number 11

Healthy Strong Communities

Optimism, interdependence and broad community participation are all attributes of strong communities...

Other characteristics include consensus building, collaboration, a focus on the future, leadership renewal, reconciliation, win-win solutions, diversity and involvement, Australian community development advocate Peter Kenyon told audiences in Clutha, Hutt City, Nelson, Golden Bay and Ruapehu recently.

Unhealthy communities are characterised by cynicism, polarisation, confrontation, debate about the past, parochialism, short term thinking, win-lose solutions, politics of personalities and exclusion.

The key themes healthy communities need to work on are:
- being open to change and alternative thinking
- creating a vision
- building from the inside out
- continuous dialogue about the future
- broad-based community participation
- focusing on assets rather than limitations
- encouraging local business and organisational creativity and entrepreneurship
- renewal of leadership
- passion

The Australian Rural Women’s Advisory Council has identified volunteering as a critical factor for creating success in rural communities. Having committed local leaders has been identified in research as fundamental and more important than money in rejuvenating a region. Research has also shown that strong communities are places where the capacities of local residents are identified, valued and used.

The Centre for Agricultural and Regional Economics’ Roy Powell says that towns are not so different from businesses, in that they need to keep recreating themselves.

“The successful towns are likely to be driven by people who are passionate and creative, who see an opportunity and go for it. You need communities with a bit of get up and go spirit. Some have it, some don’t.

“Strong communities have strong leaders, strong networks with other communities, can build on their existing assets and resources, have a ‘can do’ community spirit and are optimistic about the future, can grasp the opportunities that come their way, have a sense of belonging, embrace change and take responsibility.”

Peter says that tourism has proven to be an exceptionally good way to enhance the economic potential of rural communities.

“You only need 20 carloads of visitors overnight each night for one year to have the same economic impact as a factory with an annual payroll of $1.5 million. The same 20 carloads of visitors arriving each night creates 21 jobs in the local economy each year.”

The annual economic impact of 100 visitors a day compared to 100 new manufacturing jobs is:

- a population increase of 459 (compared to 360 for manufacturing)
- 140 new households (100 for manufacturing)
- $1,120,000 increase in retails sales ($331,000)
- seven more retail outlets (three more retail outlets)
- 111 new industry-related jobs (65 new industry-related jobs.)

Peter, who has recently developed a publication on 20 inspirational rural Australian businesses (Good Enough Never Is), says dynamic businesses have a huge impact on rural communities.

For businesses to grow, he recommends that they:
- love cash flow
- practice positively outrageous customer service
- banish the bland and dare to be different in marketing
- recognise, excite and extend staff
- network and cross promote with other businesses
- be idea obsessive.


Pictured: One of the businesses featured in the Good Enough Never Is publication, Elvis Parsley’s Grapeland fruit shop in Queensland. “If you want to survive in a town of 2000, only half an hour from a major regional centre, you need to be bold and creative... I want people to come to Grapeland, to laugh, sing, dance and experience what I love about this town,” says Elvis.

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