Journal article

"Business connect" - an initiative in regional development

Regional planning Business enterprises Albury Wodonga

The Business Connect initiative has its origins in an inexorable progression over the last two decades from the ‘National Growth Centres’ program of the Whitlam Government through the restructuring of the Australian economy to a more introverted attitude about “Home Grown Development”. Fortunately the Albury- Wodonga economy has emerged reasonably intact from a significant re-orientation of its direction.

In early 1973, Albury-Wodonga was officially designated a growth centre by the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victorian Governments. The Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation commenced operations in mid-1974, with a target population by the turn of the century of 300,000. After an extensive land purchase program, with a promise of large scale public service agencies being transferred or created, the AWDC faced a change of government. This slowed the project down, and in late 1977, it was decided to change the orientation towards private sector development and to halve the target population to 150,000 or so by 2000 A.D. Staff was also reduced by one-third.

After a couple more reviews, things became serious in 1989 and remained so for a couple of years as the AWDC was restructured - both staff and the Board. A CEO was appointed, and the emphasis was changed:-
• from Manufacturing towards service industries;
• from external promotion towards “Home Grown Development’’/import replacement;
• from unco-ordinated economic development to a single, representative agency;
• from 150,000 target to 106,700 by the end of the century.
Throughout this, Albury-Wodonga continued to grow steadily at an average rate (for population), of about 2.5% p.a.

What really decided the new directions was economics, rather than political fiddling; Albury-Wodonga had been immune to economic vicissitudes through the 1970s and 1980s, but suffered significant job losses in 1990 and 1991. In 1992, jobs grew slightly, but for the first time, the total number of firms declined slightly.
In the outside world, business investment had fallen sharply, as the recession deepened. Fortunately for Albury-Wodonga, a few very large private and public projects had begun pushing investment to record levels. 1993-94 will produce an even better result.

A group of private sector executives was formed, and in time joined with the AWDC and local government to form Development Albury-Wodonga 2000 (DAW 2000). The private sector group (Enterprise Albury- Wodonga) still has a major role, and is currently the appropriate vehicle for OLMA funding, (see the organisational chart: Figure 1).

In 1992, the combination of economic conditions (both nationally and in Albury- Wodonga), with official policy, and with availability of OLMA funding led to an innovative research programme - an input- output study - to accurately identify the structure and linkages of the regional economy; and a business opportunities programme - to identify import replacement and new industry activities. In other words, we were combining the macro and micro aspects of our local economy in the one project.

It is my intention to describe both projects, but to concentrate especially on the business opportunities research - known as “Business Connect ’. There are many steps which had to be taken in an enthusiastic way - otherwise it would have failed. The project clearly needs more, consistent work with an innovative marketing person to identify opportunities.

This paper covers the steps taken from early 1992 to date. The lessons learnt may be useful for others seeking to develop their regions. There are numerous steps to take, and pitfalls with every move.

The entire process requires the unstinting co-operation of all relevant organisations, and enormous stamina. Albury-Wodonga still has a long way to go after a year or more, but hopes to make the broker role a permanent one.

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