If it ain’t local, don’t touch it

COASTAL towns such as those on the Northern Rivers need to foster businesses run by and employing local people and using local products, a development expert has told a national conference at Byron Bay.

Professor Ed Blakely, of consulting firm Blakely Global, headed the post-Hurricane Katrina recovery effort in New Orleans until last year, when he moved to Australia.

Yesterday he told the Australian Coastal Councils Conference at Byron Bay that communities working to tackle low average incomes and high unemployment needed to be careful about the kind of bus- inesses they relied on for their economic health.

“As we change and collapse our environment we are losing our uniqueness,” Prof Blakely told the conference.

“That’s not just about creating a clean environment, it’s keeping the qualities of the environment.”

In that, Prof Blakely was referring to the built and social environment as much as the natural one, and that built environment was being eroded as small local businesses were forced out by soaring rents and franchises moved in.

“Now I see the same stores in Sydney as I see in each of our small communities. Those same retailers. I was just in Japan and they are there, too,” he said.

“After a while the unique quality that brought us to a community is lost, unless we husband it.”

It was not just the loss of ‘uniqueness’ that threatened small towns. The dominance of franchises meant much of the money being spent in towns was being lost to capital cities or overseas.

If you combined that with a tourist industry where visitors stayed in franchise hotels you were in real trouble.

Prof Blakely said studies had found destinations dominated by franchise hotels ended up losing about 50 cents for every dollar a tourist spent in their communities.

The money they spent on accommodation and at hotel shops or restaurants was siphoned away from the community they were visiting. Then they went to town and spent up more at franchise restaurants and clothing stores. That money, too, was sip- honed away, while the community bore the infrastructure costs needed to cater for the extra visitors.

Another employer to be wary of was government departments. Prof Blakely pointed to the example of Parramatta, saying it had many jobs, thanks to government offices based there, but a low average income bec- ause those working in the offices lived in other parts of Sydney.

The solution was business clustering and incubator centres.

Prof Blakely gave the example of clusters of like businesses. Health-focused businesses, such as yoga programs, would create an attraction to a town.

Incubator centres sponsored by a council let local businesses develop without having to fork out for the high rents on the main strip, encouraging a local business identity that would attract visitors, create jobs and increase real incomes.



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