How to boost a region’s economic prospects

Events | 24 11 2017

Insights from the Place Leaders NSW chapter launch from Andrew Hoyne.

Last month I was invited to speak at the launch of Place Leaders Asia Pacific’s NSW Chapter. For those unfamiliar with them, Place Leaders is an industry association who drive and inspire the creation of successful public places that achieve real-world social and economic benefits for individuals, communities and businesses.

I was particularly struck by a presentation from Lucilla Marshall, Group Manager for Community Participation and Engagement at Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, who has spent the last two-and-a-half years working to develop the council’s approach to placemaking.

The Port Macquarie area faced a number of challenges: an ageing population, a fragmented council and a community who had become disenchanted with their local government. However, the council wanted to change this and work with the community to turn the Port Macquarie Hastings district into a vibrant, empowered, unified and economically successful destination.

They engaged the local and wider community with a series of pop-up events and activities, collaborated with community groups, Chambers of Commerce, businesses and individuals to develop ideas, activities and placemaking events.

The impact has been significant. The number of community-driven projects has increased dramatically, with over 51,000 people attending and participating in events over the last two-and-a-half years. The Hastings Ignites event alone attracted over 10,000 attendees in its first two years, and over 38 local businesses now participate in the Christmas in July event which has attracted over 6,000 people since its launch. Reflecting their commitment to the evolution of the region, an additional 23 businesses have joined the Chamber of Commerce as members.

And the success doesn’t stop there. In a recent Community Needs Survey, 86% of residents stated that Council’s performance had improved in the past two years – and at a community forum in July 2016, Place Making was ranked in the top 5 priority services that the council provides.

This is an amazing result; the council has increased engagement and community wellbeing, as well as boosting the region’s economic prospects. Through considered placemaking, they’ve put the Port Macquarie Hasting area on the map and turned it into a destination. Too often I see councils shy away from this kind of ‘progressive thinking’. But if you want a strong brand, then you have to engage the community first with an inspiring vision. Only then can you create a sense of place which will attract outsiders: visitors, tourists, businesses and investment. I was inspired by what Port Macquarie Hastings Council has achieved and believe this is how all councils should be thinking if they want to create economic success and happier, more cohesive communities.

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