Economist has positive message for region

By Myles Peterson

The mood at Riverlinks was buoyant yesterday as 170 business and political leaders met to discuss the economic future of the region.

The ‘Grow Greater Shepparton Economic Forum’ brought together the heads of district local businesses with leadership representatives from Greater Shepparton City Council, Committee for Greater Shepparton and state and federal politicians.

NAB economist Phin Ziebell was the main attraction and his positive, upbeat message was well received.

Greater Shepparton is in the midst of a transformation, from reliance and dependence on horticulture and dairy into a vibrant service hub, according to Mr Ziebell.

‘‘The health sector, education sector, the public sector is where there’s been big growth — they tend to be high wage jobs,’’ he said.

‘‘When you look at this region, the hospital expansion (for example), it has become the biggest employer.’’

Along with the growth in public sector employment, Greater Shepparton was benefiting from a lack of issues plaguing Australia’s big metropolitan hubs such as expensive housing and congestion.

‘‘Having a sustainable industry, an industrial base, having a quick trip to work, having a house that you can buy and raise a family and do all of those things is a structural advantage in a lot of regional towns and Shepparton in particular,’’ Mr Ziebell said.

House prices were a key feature of the message.

‘‘Shepparton has a huge advantage in the lack of congestion. It hasn’t had the house price boom that Melbourne and Sydney had,’’ Mr Ziebell said.

‘‘It went up a bit when you look at the data, it went up and now it’s on the way down, but it’s not the kind of rollercoaster seen in capital cities and that is a huge advantage I think.’’

The fabled ‘‘food boom’’ was in full swing, but was not benefiting all agricultural industries equally, according to Mr Ziebell.

‘‘Parts of horticulture are having that boom now into China ... the expectations for food quality have increased. Commensurately, international expectations for food quality have increased which is a great horticultural opportunity.’’

Stemming the optimism were climate conditions.

‘‘The tough thing for the region at the moment is the drought and it’s having a big impact on everyone,’’ Mr Ziebell said.

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell, who led the forum, said it was a good day for the local business community to network and share information.

‘‘I just like the business leaders and business community coming together. If our business leaders are very informed about trends, global trends, local trends, from top economists like Phin, then they’re going to make better decisions,’’ he said.

‘‘If they make better decisions then their businesses go forward and the whole region prospers.’’

Mr Birrell echoed Mr Ziebell’s observations about the changing local economy.

‘‘That’s been a deliberate strategy because you can’t just rely on a sector that’s vulnerable to the climate, that’s vulnerable to international markets. However, it’s still very important,’’ he said.

NAB Goulburn Valley managing partner Dave Davies said the annual forum was an important part of the bank’s support of the region.

‘‘We find (the outlook is) really buoyant at the moment. There’s areas of the community that are hurting more than others, but there are others that are showing this is a great place to invest your money, a great place to bring up your family, a great place to live,’’ he said.