The newly-launched Maranoa Innovation Network is hoping to capitalise on the greater interest in regional lifestyles that the COVID pandemic has brought, by supporting existing and potential businesses across the region.
Speaking at the launch in Roma on Thursday afternoon, guest speaker Julia Spicer said both the Maranoa initiative and a similar one already operating in Goondiwindi had a great opportunity to take advantage of regional popularity at the moment.
"But we've got to be better at telling our own good news stories," she said.
The network is the brainchild of the Maranoa region's Business Excellence Program and aims to be an incubator for local businesses, existing and new.
Ongoing regular workshops throughout 2021 are planned to offer collaboration, mentoring, education, technical support, and investment opportunities.
So far three businesses have signed up as participants - Ida Kocsis's organic, natural mosquito repellent called Off-Squito, the Nutri-Lick Ute Chute at Mitchell, and the Farmer's Forge blacksmithing business based at Roma.
The latter business was begun by grazier Mick Henricks as an antidote to drought.
"It was kind of a hobby that turned into something else because my wife said, why don't you?" he said. "I've always been a maker in the workshop and it's evolved into something that I specifically love to do and hoping that we can continue to do it."
They are at a point where they're unsure whether they should stick with selling to wholesalers or ramp sales up through their website, which they hope the mentoring offered by the program will assist them with.
"We're in a position where we're turning out enough tools the way we're doing it but we want to go another level," Mr Henricks said.
"To go another level, those machines cost a lot of money.
"You get trapped in spots in business where you need to grow - Sherrill thought we'd be great candidates for the program, that we fit the criteria."
Sherrill Stivano is one of the promoters of the new community-led network, seeing its potential to tap into the wealth of local knowledge to help resolve local issues, and to serve local interests and industries' needs.
She said anyone wanting to see if their business was eligible, or wanting to be a mentor, should get in touch.
Ms Spicer, the founder of Goondiwindi-based Engage and Create Consulting, told those at the launch that while a lot of money had been spent over the years in attracting and supporting start-up businesses, it was just as important to keep up support for existing businesses.
"It's good to see the connections between generations here today," she said. "Older people can help younger ones, and they can help fund ideas and seed them."
Another piece of advice was not to look east for answers, that local people knew what worked for local needs, and that things that happen in Brisbane could happen in Roma as well.
"Showcase agriculture - it's your biggest employer, and it's your biggest rate base."
Ms Spicer said the Goondwindi group was concentrating on workforce attraction and retention as there weren't enough employees locally, which meant businesses didn't have the luxury of innovation.
They were doing that by working with the local secondary department on STEM subjects at school.
Maranoa Regional Council mayor Tyson Golder said their region faced a similar challenge of getting enough people to move west.
"What we have is lifestyle though, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this can help innovation grow in the Maranoa," he said. "My experience is that people will help other people so my advice would be, ask for help."
Wotif.com co-founder Andrew Brice was another of the launch's keynote speakers.
According to Roma Commerce and Tourism president Charlie Eames, the BEP pilot initiative was a collaboration between the Maranoa Regional Council, Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise, Advance Queensland through the Advancing Regional Innovation Program Department of State Development Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, Roma Commerce and Tourism, and Santos.
Santos regional manager Andrew Snars said they were excited to be part of the new program as it would encourage growth, development, and a sustainable future for the region.
"Coming out of the challenges of COVID-19, the program will help create jobs, drive regional economies and encourage local investment."
The Maranoa Innovation Network plans to encourage economic growth and development among people and businesses from Roma, Injune, Mitchell, Surat, Wallumbilla, Yuleba, Jackson, Amby, Muckadilla, Mungallala.
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