OPINION

Giving regional business the confidence to grow

When the RBA cut interest rates to 1 per cent, it wasn't unexpected. By many measures, our economy is sluggish and this was an attempt to nudge things along a little, to stimulate investment and consumer spending.

But in regions, we know one of the major reasons affecting a sluggish economy is much less about the macro economic factors, and more about things closer to home such as business confidence in attracting workers.

For many rural businesses that are reliant on agriculture and are trying to manage their way through this ongoing drought, retaining workers is a financial issue and one we know is hitting hard.

But there are many regional economies that are being held back because they can't find the people they need to fill the jobs they have.

The latest figures show that we now have more than 44,600 job vacancies in regional Australia.

The vacancy rate is increasing at a greater rate here in the regions than it is in our metropolitan cities.

In some areas, regional migration is a solution, and in others it may be about implementing regional learning systems to "grow workers from within".

But this takes time, planning and collaboration.

On July 10, the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) will be in Adelaide for the Regions Rising SA event, where we will launch our regional migration toolkit, Steps for Settlement Success.

This toolkit has been developed to help make it easier for communities that are wanting to welcome migrants to their towns, to alleviate workforce shortages and grow the population.

The toolkit gives communities a step-by-step action plan of how to work through the process ... based on interviews with community champions of regional settlement, many of whom initiated programs with little guidance. It points out the "pitfalls" to avoid, as well as the "must-haves" in making the migrant resettlement a success.

With the generous support of the Scanlon Foundation, the RAI's new toolkit gives communities a step-by-step action plan of how to work through the process.

At its core, the new toolkit is based on interviews with community champions of regional settlement, many of whom initiated programs with little guidance on how to make it happen.

It points out the "pitfalls" to avoid, as well as the "must-haves" in making the migrant resettlement a success.

At the RAI, we know there are many migrant workers and their families wanting to move to regional Australia to take up jobs.

However, this toolkit also focuses on the community itself and the importance of bringing everyone along on this journey.

Regional migration projects have a lot of moving parts and require input from many different sectors.

Each community is very different and you can't just put a blanket approach across this issue.

This is about matching the right people with the right community.

When Tom Smith, the owner of Kia-Ora Piggery in country Victoria, embarked on this process more than 10 years ago, there was really no support available.

He needed workers to expand his successful operation, but locally, the staff he needed weren't available around Pyramid Hill.

Fast-forward a decade, and there are now more than 100 Filipinos living in Pyramid Hill - a town with a population of just 550 people.

A Filipino grocery store has opened its doors in the small rural town, and people are travelling from neighbouring communities to shop there.

This little country town has been giving a new lease on life.

The story of Pyramid Hill has been given a lot of exposure in recent months, as the federal government grapples with the big Australia debate.

But as we know, many regional communities are ahead of government in their planning to set out a path for the future.

Regional Australia is changing, and with this transformation comes boundless opportunities - but also challenges.

We hope the new toolkit will be a useful resource for those regional communities looking to welcome migrants, and more importantly, keep them there.

Steps for Settlement Success will be available on the RAI website on July 10. To obtain a copy, go to www.regionalasutralia.org.au.

Dr Kim Houghton is co-chief executive of the Regional Australia Institute