Liesa Davies is Executive Officer of the Chamber of Commerce and Manager of Hastings Business Enterprise Centre, a position she took up a year ago.
Earlier, a first-class degree in international relations and top-Japanese language skills saw her in a Defence career in Canberra on the threshold of the senior executive ranks. Now, Port Macquarie has her experience to hand, working to advance our business sector.
My role for the chamber is to represent local businesses’ interests, providing a voice on issues of concern to them, to achieve outcomes to help the sector prosper and grow. As manager of the BEC I support free enterprise through access to business information, advice, training and networking opportunities. I work for 210 members in the chamber, 100 in the BEC and report to the chamber board. I took on the job because I love working with people, the diversity of the roles – there’s always a new issue or something to learn – policy development, and liaison with interesting people. My other job is as a Mum and wife. Our family moved to Port from Canberra in July 2008 when our youngest child was three weeks old. We’d been thinking of moving to Canada to be closer to my husband Gareth’s family but then we visited good friends who’d moved here. Neither of us likes extreme cold and what we really wanted was a change from our busy lives in Canberra … the rest is history. Here, we’re closer to my family in Queensland, we’ve found great jobs, a wonderful community, have great friends and a fabulous environment to raise our three gorgeous girls aged 7, 5 and almost 2. With both of us working – Gareth is an auditor with Holiday Coast Credit Union – three kids and various extracurricular activities, we’ve haven’t changed the pace of life much but we’re enjoying it more and can’t think of a better place to be!
I’m a country girl, fourth generation raised on a cattle property near Toowoomba, who went from the farm to Tokyo as a Rotary exchange student and then spent years studying the language. This was the first of various personal and work experiences where I’ve leapt into the relative unknown, taken on a challenge and loved it. Starting work in my current role, much of it was unfamiliar: working for a member-based organisation in a new town, new people, issues to grapple with, background and history to learn. But it’s fulfilling, especially with a supportive network of people. I was comfortable I had the necessary skills, albeit developed in a different environment, and the diversity of my work means there’s never a dull moment. A recent working week covered things like getting my head around strategic documents such as the council’s draft local environmental plan, the draft foreshore management plan, understanding members’ views on these things, meeting council officers to ensure the business community is engaged and its views taken into account, ensuring members are informed of issues/opportunities affecting their business, organising event speakers/themes, shoring up sponsors for the business awards, and so on. As a relative newby much of my work is learning from scratch, but it’s one of the most interesting and rewarding aspects. I’m usually speaking with business owners and stakeholders who’re passionate about what they do and ensuring the best outcomes for our community. Managing priorities can sometimes be difficult: I can’t keep everyone happy all the time, but I do my best to engage and support our members. I think Port’s business community has a very bright future: we’re ideally positioned to grow, diversify and prosper. There will always be hurdles: government red tape, ever-changing regulatory environment, difficulty accessing affordable finance. Strategically, we need to broaden our economic base as our population grows and ensure we have the infrastructure to do so. Attracting and retaining a high quality workforce and providing tertiary education opportunities for youth will also be integral to growing local business and industry. There are a lot of people in our community committed to overcoming these challenges. Working collectively will be the key.
I’m loving being involved in the community professionally and personally – something I didn’t make much time for in Canberra at a local level – so it takes me back to my youth, working in a close-knit rural community. It’s important to me that we foster a positive environment and opportunities both now and for future generations. In 20 years’ time I’d like to think we’ll have taken advantage of our population growth and other opportunities to expand local business and attract new and diverse enterprises. We’d have a thriving economy with a high quality tourism industry as one element, but perhaps be not as dependent, proportionally, on it as now. We’ll be regarded as a dynamic coastal hub in a perfect environmental setting, with loads of opportunity.