Gympie Chamber president reveals year of change, controversy
RE-ELECTED Gympie Chamber of Commerce President Tony Goodman addressed a large crowd at the Chamber's annual general meeting last week.
Here is a transcript of that address:
"Last year you couldn't pick up a newspaper around the country without reading about the fragile state of the economy and certainly Gympie didn't miss out," Mr Goodman said.
"We won the dubious first prize of being the lowest socio-economic area in Qld, the highest unemployment rate, the highest youth unemployment rate and the highest number of empty shops in regional Queensland, and the 'jewel in the crown' was a front-page headline 'Battler's Capital of Qld'.
"I don't know about you, but that was nicking me in the head and I knew something had to be done. I get the fact that our great local newspaper T he Gympie Times has to report the facts and call it like they see it. I don't have a problem with that, but this is where the Chamber has to step up and try to enact positive change in the region and try to reverse those headlines.
"So in November last year I arranged a meeting with Federal Member Llew O'Brien, local State Member Tony Perrett and a local councillor at GRC, where for two hours at the Royal Hotel, we chewed the fat on how to get this region up and going. What fired up my imagination during that conversation, was Llew talking about a munitions factory setting up outside Maryborough and looking to employ around 100 people. It gave me the idea that if Maryborough can do it, why not Gympie?
"I was already toying with the idea of running for president of the Chamber, as I had a number of people asking me to do it. That conversation at the Royal motivated me to run for the presidency, to see how we can create more jobs in the area. But to do that the Chamber had to change direction. It needed to be more than just running events about Business 101, marketing your business or social media. Important as they are, you can get these online today.
"So to cut a long story short I was rubber stamped as the new president and fortunately the new board supported the idea of looking to see how we could create more jobs in the area by finding out how we can attract multinational and national companies.
"We had to start somewhere. We were going into uncharted waters, so we needed to find out where we stand right now as a region in economic development. The board then engaged the Director of Regional Development Australia Scott Rowe, David Sparkes from State Government Wide Bay and Lynne Banford Economic Development Futures from council to explain the state of play in the region. We also approached council two weeks before, to respectfully ask them if they wouldn't mind not attending, so the breakfast attendee's could speak openly, freely and honestly without fear. This would be only a one off and council would be welcome at every other breakfast meeting. We would also present all feedback to them that came from the floor.
"Unfortunately, this went down like a lead balloon with council, and if they weren't allowed to attend then they would pull Lynne Banford from speaking at the event. Fortunately, to the board's credit, we held firm and went to the breakfast with Scott Rowe and David Sparkes. "The Gympie Times got wind of Lynne Banford not appearing leading into the breakfast gathering and did a story about it. The result on the morning was the biggest crowd that ever attended a Chamber breakfast, with excellent feedback provided.
"Why am I speaking about this? Because ladies and gentlemen, this was not only a defining moment for the Chamber, but we put a huge stake in the ground, that we are going to be fiercely independent … a puppet to no one. This is where the Chamber stepped up and came of age. This was a turning point.
"From all the feedback we had at that event, it was very clear that the Planning Department at council was not user friendly and many applications were taking up to 18 months to three years to get DA approval.
"Around the same time we met with the CEO of Chamber QLD and he pointed us to the current Economic Development Strategy 2014 to 2019. He said a lot of these plans tend to sit on a shelf and are not followed through with. It ended up being the case here. Some were done and a number of others weren't. Glaring examples that hadn't happened was a reference group to oversee it, a warehouse, transport and industry hub.
The Chamber Board then set two more strategies in place to compliment our first strategy which is to attract national and multinational companies here. The second one to see how we can encourage the Planning Department to be more user friendly and applications to be processed in a much quicker time frame. So we set our sails around these three goals to help steer us through these uncharted waters.
To do that, we engaged over the year a diverse range of speakers from outside the area to give us the best advice. These speakers were very well respected and had vast experience at a national level. Unfortunately time doesn't permit me here tonight to summarise what each guest speaker brought to the table, but certainly it was a major factor in helping us to get packed sold out events month after month. It well and truly showed that the business community is looking for change and looking for action
However if I had to pick out two speakers that had a great impact on me personally, they would be the Mayor of the Sunshine Coast talking about the five pillars they have implemented to get his region to Number 1 in Australia and how Gympie could capitalise off their success. It was controversial, but why wouldn't we hear from him being just 60km down the road? The other was Terry Ryder from Hotspotting telling us which regions around Australia have put actions in place to convert their region from high unemployment to low unemployment. The common theme that came through, is that they developed a communication strategy in place to sell the benefits of their area to companies they wanted to target. Wow. How good was that?
So my five minute time to deliver this report is running out, so let me summarise the milestones and achievements of the Chamber over the year.
1. We are a voice and advocate for business.
2. Fiercely independent
3. We attracted excellent speakers to sold out events every monthly breakfast. (Numbers up to 130 to 150)
4. Full page positive stories in The Gympie Times about what these speakers delivered.
5. Our brilliant wordsmith board member Brendan Allen putting together a wonderful column every second week in the business section of our local newspaper.
6. Doubled our membership over the year.
7. Best financial shape the Chamber has ever been.
8. Met with the CEO and directors of council at our board room to work collaboratively on positive outcomes.
9. Enacted a win/win strategy with Gympie Regional Council to come up with good workable solutions, that can be not just a win for business but also a win for the council.
10. Through the feedback gained through the breakfast events, an independent review was activated by the council.
11. Two joint breakfast events with the council.
12. Several school leaders regularly attend our events with school students who want to see what is happening in the business community. The Chamber covers the student's breakfast.
13. The biggest and best business awards night in October with 250 in attendance.
14. Chamber Board was a unified force for change.
Does that sound like we are controversial and negative as one well known leader in this community said to the Chamber? I believe it shows emphatically, what I outlined above, that the journey we took resonated with the business community.
In closing, there were many challenges, probably overwhelming at times and the occasional sleepless nights, but we kept reminding ourselves of our common purpose to serve the community and try and create more jobs. It's amazing what can be achieved with purpose, passion and focus.
I want to thank our board for working together as a team and would like to single out for special mention Sharlene Makin for the excellent work in overseeing our financials, admin and watching our backs in relation to governance and Brendan Allen for his excellent columns in The Gympie Times and promoting our events on social media.
Thank you to Tony Perrett for his chairing the meeting. It was terrific.
Thank you to our wonderful newspaper for working with us over the year.
And a big thank you to Joanne and Kelly for donating their time to count the votes to see who will be on the board for 2020.
And lastly thank you to everyone who came along tonight (around 50).
- Tony Goodman