Community approach to business sustainability

Article image - Community approach to business sustainability Members of the NVFG get together at a local café to finalise the community’s 2012 strategic plan: (l – r) Helen Smith; Louise Collins, Lexi Breese and Kit Carson (NVFG President). Living in a small hinterland village that straddles both a major highway and two local government areas has its challenges, however the residents of Nabiac in New South Wales have set a clear course in achieving their vision of a ‘Vibrant Rural Village’.

Nabiac is situated on the Pacific Highway around 225kms north of Sydney. The village has a population of around 650, but provides services to a wider, mainly rural catchment totalling around 2500 people.

The main commercial centre and majority of residents in Nabiac occupy the Great Lakes Local Government Area (LGA). The remaining residents live in the Greater Taree City Council LGA, on the western side of the highway.

About 10 years ago a proposal was put forward to upgrade the section of the highway that passes through Nabiac, with much debate as to whether to deviate around the village or maintain the existing route through the middle of the town. The end result was that the highway was upgraded in its original position with green sound barriers erected to protect the town from the noise of passing traffic.

Behind the sound wall lies a thriving community that boasts around 35 businesses, including an IGA supermarket, two medical centres, two hairdressing salons, two butchers and three real estate agents. A number of cafés and the motel are popular with both locals and passing motorists.

Nabiac also has a flourishing primary school of 188 students, and the town hosts a number of significant events throughout the year, such as regular farmers’ markets and an agricultural show that recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Underpinning all this sustainable growth is a strong community strategic plan, which was initiated in 2004 following discussions between the Chamber of Commerce and Council’s Economic Development Manager. Funding was secured from the then NSW Department of State and Regional Development to facilitate two workshops to develop the plan.

While many such plans are developed and then shelved, Nabiac continues to review and update its plan through regular community consultation. The most recent workshop was held in April 2012, with attendees including business people, residents, primary school students, as well as the Mayor and General Manager from Great Lakes Council.

A key to the success of the plan has been the formation of the Nabiac Village Futures Group (NVFG) to oversee the plan’s implementation. This volunteer committee is made up of members of the community and represents a diverse range of views and interests. While the NVFG can’t take all the credit for the achievements in the plan, the value of a group like this for both the community and Great Lakes Council cannot be underestimated.

The NVFG and Council continue to use the priorities expressed in the community plan to advocate on behalf of Nabiac on a wide range of issues. Council has recognised the important role of the group and sends its Economic Development Manager to NVFG’s monthly meetings. Council also makes other staff available to meet with the group on specific matters.

Council’s Economic Development Manager, Deb Tuckerman said, “It’s fantastic to see a community taking control of its future rather than waiting for someone else to determine the future for them. We’re now talking to Greater Taree City Council about creating employment opportunities in the Nabiac area that are intended to lead to an overall land-use strategy.

“The NVFG makes Council’s life so much easier in terms of engagement with the community, and understanding the community’s priorities really helps with the allocation of our limited resources. Nabiac’s local plan feeds directly into our overall community strategic planning process.”