Building a vibrant Murraylands community

A vibrant community where people can live, work, play, and enjoy an enhanced quality of life is RDA Murraylands and Riverland’s vision for the region.

With this in mind, we recently attended the 2018 South Australian Regional Development Conference, hosted by Regional Development Australia, where creating vibrant communities was a focal point.

RDA chairs, board members, local government elected members and economic development staff were in attendance for an in-depth discussion and learning experience about how vibrancy attracts new investment, encourages business growth, creates jobs and grows the population.

Economic Development Central Oregon chief executive officer Roger Lee was one of the keynote international speakers. He discussed the economic challenges in his region and subsequent rebound and recovery which led Oregon to become one of the country’s best performing small cities and among the fastest for population growth.

On reflection, it was encouraging to know that much of that city’s success could be likened to the RDA’s work we undertake on behalf of our regional businesses and stakeholders. This puts us in good stead.

Here are the traits we share with Oregon, in which the Murraylands excels, which reinforces that we’re on the right track:

· Two of the largest employment industries were decimated in Oregon, losing thousands of jobs. Government and industry collaborated to help find alternate employment to support local jobs – just as we’ve done since the Thomas Foods fire.

· Resorts and tourism destinations were established by long-term investors to attract investment and create jobs, similar to what’s being achieved by Monarto Zoo, The Bend Motorsport Park and Bridgeport Hotel, amongst others.

· Focusing on jobs that create wealth by exporting goods and services outside our own regional borders is imperative (growth in the traded sector). This is one of our key strengths with the region exporting more than $2 billion of goods annually. Primary production and manufacturing, as our region’s top two industries, alone add more than $400 million to the local economy. 

There are also learnings from Oregon that deserve our additional focus and are a timely reminder:

· Building a robust workforce for youth. Currently 15pc of Murraylands youth are disengaged which means they are not studying, training or in paid employment, which is significantly above the South Australian average. How can we improve youth engagement by increasing opportunities, so they can earn and learn without leaving the region? 

· A team effort is needed to have key amenities – this includes health care, education, arts, entertainment, dining and culture.  While we’ve started the journey in this area there is still a lot of work to be done to meet standards.

· Local investment – attracting new businesses is great for the economy, however growing what we have already is critical. The 50pc of the new jobs and 61pc of additional investment in Oregon came from businesses who were already established in the region. TFI has committed to rebuilding in Murray Bridge, Ingham’s is expanding its facilities and many local businesses are capitalising on local infrastructure projects to win new work and employ more staff. 

·  Young families and migration – our population is currently skewed towards an older demographic, many of which are exiting the workforce. Attracting young families who will live, work and spend in the region for decades to come is key. 

Reflecting on RDA Murraylands and Riverland’s 2020 Strategic Plan, I’m confident we have an effective strategy to realise our ambitious vision.

We can become a community of choice and increase our appeal as an attractive alternative to urban sprawl in capital cities.

By Jo Podoliak, CEO,

Regional Development Australia

Murraylands and Riverland