The newly elected president of Business New England says while she understands the current push for Guyra to disengage from the merger with Armidale council, she does not think it is the right way to go.
Aileen MacDonald OAM joined the business chamber in late 2018 and has been secretary for 18 months.
A long term Guyra resident, Ms MacDonald was always in favour of the highly contentious merger of Guyra Shire and Armidale Dumaresq councils more than five years ago. However, since that time, a group of Guyra residents has fought to have the two former councils reinstated.
"There are still things to work out, and a lot of people are still thinking about what it used to be rather than what it could be," she said.
"I think there are lots more opportunities than there used to be if we're open to them and want to work that way.
"But I also understand it because if you drove through Guyra and you don't see the name Guyra anywhere because it's all Armidale Regional, and when people talk about it, they seem to forget to add on the regional and talk about Armidale.
"Sometimes you think nothing's been learned, so I get why it hasn't gone as well as it could."
The most significant benefit to the amalgamation, in Ms MacDonald's opinion, is the opportunity for Guyra to leverage increased scale and capacity, she said.
"If we want to attract good people to the region, and we are a smaller council, we are not going to be able to afford the salaries that those skilled people require and also skill up our people in the region," said Ms MacDonald.
"It means you have to spread a lot less money a lot further, so it is harder to budget and make ends meet.
But I understand why that feeling is there because you come into town and the name Guyra is not there.
"When councillors talk, they say Armidale, Armidale, Armidale when we should be saying the region, the region, the region."
Ms MacDonald was part of the decision to change the name of the Armidale Business Chamber to Business New England.
"It's all in the branding," she said.
"That was part of the reason we changed the name. Then people thought we wanted to take over, but that wasn't it at all.
"It was about working more collaboratively with other chambers and getter better outcomes for the region rather than looking at things parochially."
Finding common ground with the Guyra Amalgamation No Thank You Group was one of the things Ms MacDonald said was necessary when she stood for election onto the newly merged council back in 2017, along with encouraging the community to look at the positives of the merger.
"One day we had two schools, now we have a university as part of our council, we have the best regional art museum [NERAM], the airport - we can say that's ours now," she told The Armidale Express at the time.
However, she does not intend to nominate for election onto Armidale Regional Council in September.
"I'm doing other things now, and I'm passionate about small business," Ms MacDonald said.
"And the things I wanted to do when I ran for council last time I can still do, and I did.
Not getting on council actually allowed me more freedom, I think.
"Renew Armidale was something I wanted to do if I joined council, and I can do it anyway even though I am not on council.
"Being able to advocate for small business and Guyra is also something I can do independently.
"I'm speaking on behalf of the business community rather than as a councillor.
"You can be freer when engaging with people who make decisions to motivate them to do things your way.
"You kind of have one hand tied behind your back if you're a councillor, I think.
"Sometimes, there is more than one way to do things I have found."
Ms MacDonald made the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2020 for services to the community of Guyra. Specifically, it listed her involvement with the Guyra and District Chamber of Commerce, of which she was president from 2016 to 2019, as well as her decade of service with Rotary, and her many years in the Liberals.
When announcing the new team for 2021/22 Business, New England acknowledged the leadership and service of immediate past president Anthony Fox and said he would continue to provide his expertise and knowledge as the new board develops a strategic plan.
"We also thank Ross Patch for his commitment to the business community while serving on the board," Ms MacDonald said.
Joining Ms MacDonald on the 2020/21 Business New England Board is vice president Monty Maguire, secretary Dane O'Connor, treasurer Cathryn McFarland, and committee members Debbie Cartledge, Ben Gurr, and Bryn Griffiths.
"The Committee is still looking for enthusiastic members who would like to serve the business community and invite applications to fill casual vacancies of the committee," Ms MacDonald said.
"Please contact our Executive Officer, Richard Wilson on email@example.com to express your interest. You must be a financial member to be considered for the Committee."
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