In October last year, Adam Marshall MP spoke at a Business New England lunch event.
The crux of his speech was a challenge to business, cultural and community leaders in the Armidale Local Government Area to properly capitalise on the natural economic advantages we possess - to finally take up the mantle as Australia's leading regional economic hub.
In looking ahead with optimism, I thought I might take Adam up on the challenge, and think about where we might be during and at the end of the year 2021.
Next year will be a year of COVID recovery.
COVID has caused us to rethink the way we work and live. Working from home for part of a working week and being careful about COVID hygiene, for example, maybe part of what is described as 'the new normal'. There will be vaccines available during the year which no doubt will provide security to us, but will have taken some time to protect people in the Armidale region and the wider community.
By the end of the year all of our region and wider Australia will have been vaccinated and we will have a much better understanding of how the vaccines work. It was the result of scientific, bipartisan, cross-cultural collaboration, here in Australia and overseas.
International travel was slow to get back to normal. In the meantime we encouraged people to visit Armidale, boosting our tourism and contributing to our regional economy.
By the end of 2021 the regional community, tourism operators, Council and UNE recognised the significance of boosting tourism as much as possible and pulled together, driving tourism and showcasing the many aspects of the region. Visitors expressed interest or enquired about moving into the region, a very important flow-on effect.
By the end of 2021, we had above average rain which all but filled Malpas Dam. The upgrade to Malpas (increasing its capacity) was formally announced and the necessary preparation commenced for a 2026 completion. Council, after detailed consultation, communicated its holistic approach to water security involving water use strategies, dams, water recycling and storage of water by businesses and homes.
There were no further increases to water rates and subsidies were available to encourage further sustainability. Local state and federal governments made water a priority with political parties recognising the complex results from climate change.
Significantly, we started discussions on how to support Uralla's water-related challenges.
By the end of the year the Armidale Airside Business Park sold all of Stage 1 and looked at selling Stage 2. As a result, there was a significant growth of business activities supported by flight schedules returning to normal and the airport full of products manufactured and packed right here in Armidale.
Students were back on campus with the economic and cultural energy they bring to the community again being felt. UNE realised that having as many students on campus was very important, just as important as its very successful distance education program, and as a result, the whole of Armidale benefitted.
Graduations on the wonderful lawns at Booloominbah were back in full swing and graduands and families flocked to town, filling restaurants and cafes, hotels and motels, enjoying this uniquely Armidale experience.
Armidale Secondary College recorded its first academic, sporting and cultural awards and the trophy cabinet began to swell. Other schools have done well and had a year without having to study at home during the term - except for assignments and exams!
The Department of Regional New South Wales settled in and we saw growth in the population. The first rides from Armidale to Glen Innes took place along the New England Rail Trail. The promotional footage demonstrating just how truly world-class the experience is. As a result, we began hearing reports that some accommodation was booked out until the following year during peak seasons.
The New England Renewable Energy Zone was well and truly underway with the first kilowatts of clean natural Armidale-produced energy were pumped back into the national grid. And with access to cost-effective energy, business from all over the world began looking at the Armidale LGA as a sound business investment.
By the end of 2021, a new Council was elected and focussed its energy on improvements to the region and how to foster new business. Likewise, Business New England and our counterparts elsewhere provided encouragement and support to underpin the new era in economic growth.
That might sound like a pipe-dream, but we believe it is possible. The real question is 'are we willing to help this region become an economic powerhouse'.
Because, it really is up to all of us