In 2020, the Orbost district in East Gippsland was selected as a pilot for the Local Development Strategy program.
Since then, dedicated Project Manager Tim Cotter has worked with the Orbost community to identify the district’s strengths and future opportunities.
Tim returned to his hometown of Orbost local after spending the last 20 years working with regional communities around Australia for the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
In reflecting on his time back in Orbost, Tim said “I have been blown away with the level of entrepreneurial spirit, can-do attitude and innovative ways of working. Collaboration will be a key ingredient if the region is to prosper and through this project, we are working hard to bring the community together alongside government, education and industry representatives.”
Using the Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) methodology, Tim spent the first six months undertaking a ‘regional context analysis. Conducting interviews and desktop data analysis to understand the current community, business and population characteristics and activities in the Orbost district.
In July 2021, the context analysis report was published and identified that in 2019, the main employment sectors for the Orbost district were agriculture and forestry, education, and health.
The data also showed that in the past decade (as compared with the 1990s), Orbost is best known as an agricultural centre.
Complementing the data, Tim has engaged with more than 300 people from community and businesses, including 150 interviews with local people to understand Orbost’s strengths, assets and aspirations.
Tim reflected that “the interviews with stakeholders have been crucial in shining a light on the underlying substance and diversity which exists in the Orbost district’s economic and natural environment.”
He stated that, “without exception, the community commented on the quality of the natural environment, particularly the rainfall, soils and climate, and the opportunities for more to be done, other than dairy and beef farming. Growing vegetables was seen as a sector where there was considerable potential for value-adding and trying new ways of working.”
Tim’s work has resulted in the community collectively deciding on five areas of focus to support the district’s future economy. A national seeds institute, agricultural opportunities, forest management, visitor economy and a P13+ education centre.
Led by Tim, the community have been working the five areas of focus through an “Entrepreneurial Discovery Process” - bringing together the community, businesses and experts to flesh out the tangible possibilities and innovations for the Orbost district.
The first step in doing this was hosting a series of “discovery workshops” on each theme.
“We held a number of workshops locally in the community which has resulted in some very clear areas of thinking we want to explore. Currently we have two innovation groups made up of local businesses, community members, government bodies and academic experts to help us get our ideas off the ground.
“The first step for the national seeds institute is to develop a business case to build a dedicated facility and laboratory.”
“We are also in the process of developing detailed specifications for the district’s future forest and fire management needs and what workforce and specialist skills will be needed to support that. In the agriculture space we’re starting to analyse the water needs of the region to support the expansion of the agriculture sector,” Tim said.
Once Tim and the community have prepared business cases for these initiatives, seed funding will be available through the Victorian Forestry Plan Community Development Fund to kick start their implementation.
Tim also has big plans to grow the communities’ skills and capacity to grow the local economy.
“While the local development strategy development has been focussed on following particular process, it has bought about a whole opportunity to increase our local networking opportunities, deliver skills and training masterclasses for businesses in areas like leadership, investing and seeking investment, applying for funding and succession planning,” said Tim.
Tim sees a bright future for Orbost with a lot of opportunity. “If it’s down to the passion and enthusiasm of the people, then we have got a very good chance of seeing a prosperous future for our region. I’m hopeful that with more collaboration between members of the community we will see the region grow and prosper.”