Lockyer Valley rises to the top
Through sheer grit, determination and strong partnerships, the Lockyer Valley community is not only back on its feet since the flood events of 2011 and 2013, it is flourishing and providing long-term stable employment that is building a solid foundation for generations to come.
In the wake of the floods, tough decisions were made to enable the community to emerge stronger and more resilient. The then-Mayor Cr Steve Jones pulled off, in record time, the almost impossible feat of building the town on higher ground out of flood waters.
The baton of commitment and leadership was then handed to Cr Tanya Milligan with the passing of Cr Jones AM in 2016. Adopting a back to basics approach, Mayor Milligan set out on the journey to continue rebuilding the Lockyer Valley, starting with changing the way council was operating.
”There was no doubt we would have to rely on the community to help fund our redevelopment, but before we could do that in good conscience we had to look at our own internal practices and find operational savings, and we did just that,” Cr Milligan said.
“We looked at every facet of how we operated as an organisation and then set out to find ways to do more with less. We pushed our staff to find solutions and to their credit they did.
“We started living more within our means and while things were certainly tough as we went through the transitional phase, all of a sudden operational savings would become the norm rather than the exception.
“For the first time since the flood events of 2011 and 2013, we delivered a genuine operational surplus and have forecast to continue to do so for the next ten years.
“In fact, we have streamlined operations so well we are now paying down additional debt and will continue to pay down debt each year for the foreseeable future and deliver a strong, stable and financially responsible council.”
With operational expenses trimmed and fine-tuned, the council turned its attention towards attracting investment to the region. Known affectionately as the ‘salad bowl’ of Australia and with a transient workforce operating 12 months a year, the Lockyer Valley needed to find a way to provide safe and affordable accommodation for the local agricultural industry.
The solution lay with one of Australia’s largest backpacker developers and through a partnership, the council secured a $20 million purpose-built backpacker hostel. “We worked very hard to secure long-term accommodation for backpackers who play a vital role in keeping the Lockyer Valley going.
They are used extensively throughout local farms in both the picking and packaging processes as we deliver food to not only Australia but markets right across the world,” Cr Milligan said. “And with the demise of most canneries in Australia, a purpose-built state-of-the-art facility is now under development in the Lockyer Valley.
“Having a local cannery will be a major boost for not only our regional economy through ongoing stable employment, but will have a massive impact on farmers Australia-wide. A lot has happened since the floods and sadly, only too often we forget about all those wonderful elements of the Lockyer Valley that made us want to live here in the first place.
“We have been part of the discussions for a new cannery for the past number of years now and I’m happy to say with investors now coming onboard, it’s only a matter of time before it’s up and operational.”
With $400 million worth of projects currently under construction, the region is going from strength to strength.
“A new McDonald’s has just opened, a new ALDI supermarket is coming, IGA has just opened a new store, an over-50s lifestyle village has been developed and a four-star motel is now operational,” Cr Milligan said.
“For a region the size of ours this is a massive commitment and shows genuine trust in a strong and robust local economy.
“While we certainly put a lot of effort into attracting investment into our region, we also realise the community and local business drive our economy and we are passionate about continuing to engage with and support both groups.
"I believe by supporting each other and celebrating our successes, we have the ability to attract greater investment and I genuinely believe our future is a positive and bright one.”
As further means of attracting business to the region and helping nurture newstart businesses, council developed the Laidley Business Incubator as a way of allowing small businesses to test the waters before taking the next step.
“The objective of the Business Incubator is to support the growth and development of upcoming businesses and I’m happy to say already we have some really positive success stories rising from the benefits of testing the waters and building a customerbase before expanding to a commercial lease,” Cr Milligan said.
And in much the same way, council is also helping residents fall in love with the Lockyer Valley all over again.
“A lot has happened since the floods and sadly, only too often we forget about all those wonderful elements of the Lockyer Valley that made us want to live here in the first place, so through a series of weekly videos developed in-house, we are helping people re-engage with the region while at the same time developing tourism opportunities,” Cr Milligan said.
“The videos look at not only what events are taking place each weekend, but focus on the region’s key tourism attractions that locals often drive past but never call in to.
“It’s about the entire community working in partnership with council and local tourism operators to sell our message that we are open for business and located just an hour from Brisbane, providing the perfect quick escape from the city for a night or weekend.”
While the community is thriving, Mayor Milligan is keeping his eye on untapped opportunities.
“We have evolved as both a council and as a community and without the input and open and honest conversations between the community and my fellow councillors, or without the ability of council staff to deliver on our promises within very tight budgetary constraints, we would never have made it this far, but there is still plenty more to be done,” she said.
“We are currently in the process of developing a new planning scheme for the region that will further protect us for generations to come. The scheme will allow development to occur but will ensure it happens in the right places and protects the local agricultural industry which is the lifeblood of the Lockyer Valley.”
In another boost for the community, the Lockyer Valley has has been chosen to host the Queen’s Baton Relay as part of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Community pride ran high as locals lined the streets to cheer on the Baton on March 29, followed by an after-party that rivalled the Hollywood scene.
“We were delighted when approached to be part of the Queen’s Baton Relay and after everything the region has been through and to celebrate what we have achieved over the past seven years, we are hosting what I believe will be the biggest and best community celebration of any council area taking part in the Baton Relay,” Cr Milligan said.
“We managed to secure Justice Crew and internationally renowned AC/DC cover band Acca Dacca as headline acts supported by local groups and performers.
“We have Ronald McDonald putting on a show for the kids, plenty of rides and entertainment and will cap it all off with a family fireworks display and best of all, it’s 100 per cent free to attend as we celebrate this once in a lifetime event and opportunity.
“There is no doubt we have gone through hell and back as both a council and community, but I genuinely believe without the ongoing and unwavering support from my fellow councillors and council staff, especially the executive leadership team, all of this would not have been possible.
“It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the support and trust of the community that we would deliver on our promises and for that I give them my most heartfelt gratitude.”
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