Narrabri Shire Council is preparing for a massive $7 billion investment by businesses and government across the shire over the next seven years.

Over the past year the Council has set the stage for the anticipated growth with organisation-wide internal restructuring to capture the potential and opportunities and has now announced the recruitment of a Small Business Liaison Officer whose job will be to act as an interface between Council and local small businesses.

“With numerous major state significant projects under assessment, this role will provide for a strong connection between Council and Narrabri Shire’s small businesses to take full advantage of the many opportunities that will come with a variety of progressive projects occurring across the shire,” said general manager, Stewart Todd.

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The new position is in the Corporate and Community Services Directorate, part of the Tourism and Community Development section.

“The projected $7 billion investment is across pending state significant developments, including the Narrabri South solar farm, Silverleaf, the Vickery coal mine extension, the Narrabri Gas Project, the Perdaman fertiliser plant, contingent on the gas project approval, and the two Inland Rail projects, Narromine to Narrabri and Narrabri to North Star, which meet in Narrabri, and the Council driven Northern NSW Inland Port.

“This new role is one of a number Council has identified to assist in delivering on its strategic objectives and providing outcomes for the shire’s local business community.

“We are hoping to fill the role in the next month or six weeks,” said Mr Todd.

“The small business liaison officer will be the conduit between the Council and small businesses in the shire – providing support, information and assistance to business owners as well as proactively seeking funding opportunities specific to enhancing and growing our small business community,” said Mr Todd.

“Council has always been working diligently with small businesses and the community in the economic and community development space. This is set to further strengthen and complement existing roles within the organisation” Council’s director of corporate and community services,” Mr Lindsay Mason said.

“The major benefit of this new position will be the ability for Council to play a consistent and proactive ‘on the ground’ liaison role directly with small business owners as well as leading community projects that actively promote Narrabri Shire’s competitive advantage as the preferred location for small business investment now and into the future.”

What does the future hold for Narrabri Shire in terms of potential business growth?

While the prosperity of the shire community is underwritten by agriculture, with a hope for return to ‘normal’ seasons, new enterprises are in the planning stage or on the horizon.

“We are anticipating substantial jobs growth,” said Mr Todd.

“In our organisational restructure we separated macro and micro economic development and from that has come the decision to appoint a small business liaison officer.

“The liaison officer will enable access for small businesses for information support, and assistance to achieve innovative and dynamic economic and skills development for the shire. What we want to do is support small business, co-ordinate business event seminars, ways to combat the online shopping threat and give businesses the most up to date information.”

Another key responsibility of the role will be to link local businesses with the numerous grant programs on offer, aimed at local business expansion, skilled migration etc.

“The Narrabri Shire economy is fortunate in being diversified with two strong pillars in agriculture and extractive industries,” said Mr Todd.

“We don’t have all our eggs in the one basket.

“Business owners I have spoken to, mainly in retail trade, are keenly awaiting the determination of the Narrabri Gas Project and the opportunities it will bring if it is approved.

“The Narrabri Gas Project is a significant chunk of the $7 billion in investment in the next five to 10 years. Expressions of interest from major companies, including Perdaman’s proposed fertiliser plant, indicate development and jobs in Narrabri Shire’s future. And Bunnings remain keen to establish a store in Narrabri.

“The future is very bright for Narrabri Shire and with the new small business liaison position will ensure the Council has the right people in the right place at the right time,” Mr Todd said.

‘An exciting future’

Narrabri Shire Council general manager Stewart Todd has been developing a series of models to examine the potential impacts over the next five to 10 years of the state significant projects proposed for Narrabri Shire.

“I have been wary that if all or a significant number of these slated developments are approved we need to be prepared to make as much out of it as we can,” he said.

“I wanted to model the potential impacts because of the potential influx of construction jobs but primarily the growth in ongoing jobs from these projects.

“Further refining of the modelling is currently occurring, nonetheless the figures are both exciting and daunting.”

“With the best information publicly available, the shire is currently looking to host a base of 1,000 construction jobs or more from 2021-22 through to 2024-25, with the peak years being 2021-22 and 2022-23.

“Ongoing jobs from these projects is estimated to be north of 1,000.

“We are preparing a position paper which Council is considering to take to the federal and state governments.

“Council is doing the lion’s share of the heavy lifting at present and fully understands the role local government needs to play, but we need to ensure the shire receives the required assistance with services like medical, policing and public transport, we cannot afford to let the social fabric that makes Narrabri Shire what it is today be watered down but in parallel we need to reap the benefits of this exciting investment period.

“The current Council is very cognisant of this and is fully supportive of the modelling currently being undertaken.

“Twelve months ago, Council was not ready to capitalise on these opportunities, I moved Daniel Boyce into the executive strategic land use planning role, and Council’s strategic planning received an immediate shot in the arm.

“Over the last 12 months Council has significantly progressed a series of strategic planning initiatives – I can say with absolute confidence now that the shire will be able to seize the exciting opportunities emerging.

“It all really is about having the right people in the right places.

“There is no other word to use other than ‘exciting’, we are staring at an extremely exciting future but we want to make sure we are prepared and able to see what five or ten years out looks like for the shire.

“We want to take advantage of the opportunities and keep them local.

“There will be industry and employment opportunities off the back of the Inland Rail project, which will give us a freight backbone in our backyard.

“Then if the Narrabri Gas Project is approved it adds significantly to those prospects.”

The appointment of a small business liaison officer is part of the preparation for the future.

“Again, we need to have the right people in the right place at the right time,” said Mr Todd.

“We want the small business liaison officer to concentrate on the businesses which are already here and want to grow and if there are grant opportunities we want to let the small businesses know what’s out there.

“It will be a dedicated position with a direct conduit to our shire’s small businesses, keeping in contact, seeing if there is anything we can do to help with or improve on.

“With what is on the horizon for Narrabri Shire, what we are doing now to prepare is unprecedented and a very necessary strategic move,” Mr Todd said.

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