Liesa, you are the Group Manager Economic Development with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council. Can you please give us some insight into what your current role involves?
I lead a small team who works with our community to deliver projects that help create the right environment for business growth and add economic value to our region. Our work centres around delivering specific projects detailed in our 2013-2016 Economic Development Strategy – investment attraction, support to major events, tourism marketing and destination management. We also work with key local industries, provide local economic data and help local businesses connect with other government or industry bodies and more.
What is the most rewarding part about your role?
It would have to be connecting people, issues and working on solutions. My team is often an early point of contact for businesses which are looking for information or advice or are faced with a challenge. It’s very rewarding to be able to work with them (and our broad range of stakeholders within Council, other Government bodies, our local business networks etc.) towards a sustainable solution. Often, as much as we would like to, we don’t have the answer up front, but we can certainly see what we can do to try and identify, develop, or advocate for a solution.
And what are some of the biggest challenges you face within your role?
The biggest immediate challenge is changing the “Council is difficult to work with” perception – we need and are working on a far more solutions-focused culture. This is a top priority for us. Naturally, working in a field that involves regulation, there are hurdles and moments of frustration but we stay focused on the fact that a focus on solutions and continuous improvement will add up to a significant path in the right direction over time.
In a strategic sense, the biggest challenge is sustaining the current levels of confidence we are seeing locally. Acknowledging that while it’s not all smooth sailing for all businesses, broadly speaking there is a lot of local economic activity at the moment – big ticket investment and a good upturn in the construction industry is flowing on to positive sentiment in other industry sectors. Our local business confidence survey has seen a sustained increase in net local trading conditions over the past 18 months, which is great! Even better is the fact that these conditions are significantly higher than the national average. Our biggest challenge is to maintain that momentum over the long term and translate that into local jobs and industry growth that will support our local economy longer term.
One of the projects you are working on at the moment is developing a digital strategy which focuses on better mobile coverage and internet access, identifies the need for better understanding of existing digital technology and recognition of the gaps in availability and access to technology. Can you tell us more about this initiative?
Council’s Economic Development Steering Group (which is made up of Councillors, staff and local business representatives) identified a strong need for Council to do what it can to ensure local business and industry have the right telecommunications infrastructure to support their daily operations and growth. Clearly local government does not have a direct role to play in this space, but what we can do is advocate for infrastructure investment and work to help local business overcome the things they see as barriers to optimising their use of technology. Like most of our projects, input from local business has been critical in the strategy’s development.
The Port Macquarie Chamber of Commerce is hosting an event on 27 May; the Digital Marketing Day Out. This event aims to empower businesses situated on the Mid North Coast to consider how Digital Marketing tools could contribute to the growth of their business. Can you tell us a bit more about this event and how your team are to be involved?
Yes, it’s great to support this event as a sponsor. It brings some outstanding speakers and knowledge to our region to help local business better understand and make use of the range of digital marketing options that are now available. Digital marketing plays a key role in the work my team does to market our beautiful place to visitors – it’s a whole new world to traditional media, but I love that it provides significant data to help measure campaign performance, which helps us continually improve what we do. I’d encourage any local business who has or hasn’t dipped their toe in the digital marketing space to attend – the event offers great value.
Why do you think it’s important that businesses invest in attending events such as the Digital Marketing Day Out?
Obviously events like these are a great forum in which you can learn from experts in their field and some prominent business owners who have successfully grown their business. It’s also an opportunity to connect with other local business owners who may be able to collaborate with you. Feedback from many local businesses who invest in such activities suggests they often benefit just as much from the conversations and connections formed with others in the room, as they do from the event programme. It might be from talking about common challenges and discovering other approaches, right through to a conversation which leads to a business alliance that can help multiple businesses work together as a value add to all their customers.
What would you class as your biggest career achievement to date?
Crossing the divide between the public and private sectors several times, and people are still talking to me! Perhaps to say this is an “achievement” is overstating, but it has definitely been something that has enabled me to grow enormously. I have done this a couple of times now, noting my work in federal and local government, in retail, education, manufacturing and for the Port Chamber and enjoy working on “both sides of the fence”. Each has their challenges, but I would definitely say I do love that my current role enables me to work with so many passionate locals who are in business and helping to keep our economy humming.
And finally, if you could invite three business people to lunch, who would they be and why would you invite them?
I’d say find me three locals who are passionate about our region, their business and customers and surprise me! I love to discover the great local stories – we can be inspired and learn so much from those right here in our own magnificent backyard!
Interview by Jane Hillsdon, Principal Consultant of Dragonfly Marketing
This article was from issue 116 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus