Small town economies- what's driving yours?

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I grew up in the Charters Towers region. My family are agricultural business owners in an industry that I proudly wave the flag for, given any opportunity.

Charters Towers is a part of Australia that I adore and have boasted about to any poor person I’ve come across in many corners of the World.

It started as a mining town in the late 1870s, and blossomed into a diverse agricultural and tourist region.

Like so many rural areas across Australia, the Towers is battling on many fronts, namely drought, the decline of mining and the streamlining of traditionally labour intensive agricultural industries.

However, instead of calling it a day, people are becoming more innovative. They are looking for other opportunities to help their communities and economies. It’s hard not to notice the changes in the main street, namely the turnover of some shopfronts, but the stalwarts are still there and people are generally positive.

On one of my last trips home I spoke to a few business owners on how they thought their region was faring. I was impressed with their solution- based mentality. While it’s certainly not all coming up roses, they weren’t negative and had ideas on how the economy could be made stronger.

Economic education of consumers was one thing. It’s easy to promote the ‘buy local’ campaigns and hope that people stay loyal to the businesses in their town, but when times are tough, people often go for the cheapest option and that’s normally online or in a bigger, more competitive region.

Having said that, I saw on a Facebook feed the other day a conversation among locals about buying a fridge. One lady had gone to Townsville (the next closest centre) to shop for a new appliance. She was almost talked into a deal, but at the last minute called the equivalent shop in Charters Towers and found the price to be very competitive. So she went home and her money stayed in town. A terrific outcome that I’m glad she shared. Why isn’t it automatic to check local prices first? Especially when you would need to factor in quite a lot of transport costs?

Together with his business partners, Ben North employs 60 people under the Hollimans Group. It’s made up of six interconnected businesses. He says the region has barely scratched the surface in terms of economic development, but stopped short of saying exactly what he believes is in the pipeline.

Bernie Kruger has owned four businesses around town. An auto electrician by trade, he’s dabbled in everything from car parts, to a Subway franchise and now water point monitoring technology. Basically whatever has come up that’s a bit different and allows him to put food on the table. He also says he gets bored easily. A trend it seems in entrepreneurial circles.

Anyway, my three guests are much more adept at expressing their opinions- so listen to this week’s Beating Around the Bush podcast here.

And if you live in a region that should be highlighted, let me know! Send me an email at jayne@ruralbusinesscollective.com.au

Jayne CuddihyComment