How to boost business in your community

Margaret Paton

How do you turn a lacklustre village around business-wise in less than six years? Follow in the footsteps of Randall Edwards, who runs Millthorpe Bed and Breakfast in Millthorpe, near Orange, Central West NSW.

He teamed up with another business owner in early 2009 to form the Millthorpe Business Committee, and developed a vision and marketing plan to seize spinoff tourism opportunities from the emerging “Brand Orange” just 20 minutes’ drive away.

Edwards says, “We needed a website to promote Millthorpe – our whole village is heritage listed. I took my funding application to our auspicing group, the Millthorpe Village Committee (MVC), and after some "pooh-poohing" from those who said they never used the Internet, we got approval.

“Over the years, we got a lot of resistance, but our business committee’s perseverance paid off. Now new businesses seek me out to become members.”

His passion and dogged work in engaging the village committee members as well as locals – he had lived there as a teenager before staking out a corporate career in Sydney – were also key to his success.

“People can have all the skills in the world, but if you’re abrasive or abrupt and no-one likes, respects or can work with you, you’ll get nowhere,” Edwards says.

After the website came a visitor guide, TV commercials, regular events, and, importantly, encouraging the MVC to have a project register listing (rather than just complaining to the local council about) capital works needed. The penny dropped for the “old school” members when funding was secured to revamp the local tennis courts.

“People started seeing the results,” says Edwards.

The committee’s productive relationship with council and local politicians has allowed it to tap into funds from further afield. More recently, the MVC received a $500,000 grant to upgrade the local oval – a project the local Blayney Shire Council is managing.

It was incredibly challenging in the early years, though rewarding.

And if Edwards had his time again in helping revive Millthorpe?

“I’d have a vice-president. At the peak, I was spending two full work days a week on the committee – it’s now down to half a day a week. It was incredibly challenging in the early years, though rewarding.”

Edwards offers this quick checklist on boosting business:

Create or join a business chamber/group;

Find consensus for a vision;

Create a project register – a wish list with timelines, costings, roles and responsibilities;

Align with the powerful – local council, politicians – for support;

Tell your community what your group is doing and has achieved.

Margaret Paton

Former Sunday Age staff journalist, Margaret Paton (formerly Jakovac) has written widely for corporations/government departments and more than 100 online/hard copy mastheads in regional NSW, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.