Urunga locals know they are onto a good thing. Few regions could rival the sheer natural beauty and abundance of wildlife of this stretch of coastline, where two rivers meet the sea. But it is the strength of the community, the pride in their hamlet and the resilience of its occupants that makes Urunga and its neighbouring small towns so unique.
Strength, pride and resilience certainly describe Urunga-Mylestom Chamber of Commerce President Steve Allan, (pictured above). “Like everyone else here, I love the place”, says Steve. As the region emerges from a long period of economic strain, he has the task of steering recovery. And in a region where some like things just the way they are, his job will require a strong vision, diplomacy and the support of his community.
Steve, how has the events of the past few months impacted on Urunga and neighbouring small towns?
As in all areas of the human experience, there is a continuum. Some people and businesses have experienced hardship to a greater degree than others and people’s abilities to cope can vary too. There are examples of businesses that have been under enormous strain and indeed been forced to close.
Certainly the seaboard wasn’t as badly affected by the prolonged bushfires, but our tourism season was definitely affected. A lot of tourists at that critical time just didn’t turn up.
What has impressed me the most is the adaptability of the people and the businesses. There are many examples of businesses who have been able to adapt, change direction and create new offerings to meet the needs of their customers, to attract new customers and to continue to operate under circumstances never before experienced. I’m confident that these characteristics of innovation, commitment and survival will be the bridge that takes local business across the current crisis to embrace the future.
How would you describe the Urunga-Mylestom community?
There is a very strong community spirit here. Locals really get behind local initiatives and there is a core group of passionate volunteers that have the ability to bring everyone together and whip up support for whatever is going on. I suppose you could say we are quite tribal in that sense.
A lot of residents were also born and bred here, generation after generation. This means there is a lot of pride in our region and loyalty. At times this can also mean resistance to change, so any change or progress needs to be carefully managed.
The Urunga-Mylestom Chamber definitely has the support of the community. Why is it generally seen as such an important entity?
Unlike Bellingen and Dorrigo, we don’t have the large number of competing community groups. This has meant that the Chamber has needed to embrace many roles. We focus on supporting the local business community and the economy, but we also have a stated vision of trying to increase the amenity of the lifestyle of our local residents. We really want to put back and this gives us a broader scope than a usual Chamber.
The Chamber has brought a series of annual events to Urunga over the past 25 years deliberately directed at building both business and lifestyle for Urunga residents. We don’t have the infrastructure in Urunga for major events, so our focus has always been on smaller scale, one day events with the aim of bringing people to our foreshores.
As President of the Chamber and previous owner of Urunga Pharmacy what advice do you have for local business owners as we emerge from this economic fog ?
Local businesses should offer an excellent customer experience. They should know their local customers and provide solutions, bring new ideas, collaborate and listen to their customers. Businesses that focus on their customers rather than on product are always going to be the more successful and will hold an advantage over the one size fits most approach of less focused businesses.
If a business owner has reflected on the collective values of the local community and has created a business that reflects these values, then that business is by definition customer focused. Local customers support businesses that align with their personal values. The more businesses we have that reflect these collective values, the more we maintain that community character and sense of place.
Local businesses offering quality service, great consumer experiences and competitive prices are operating throughout our Shire. These qualities will ensure business longevity and will keep ensure locals do their business locally and tourists keep coming back.
How important is it then that locals do their shopping and business locally?
Small decisions can have big outcomes. Choosing to spend your money locally or not can have impacts both economically and socially. Let me explain. Local businesses are known to have a “multiplier effect” on their communities- the idea that every dollar spent at a local independently owned business can stay in the community and generate a far greater economic value. Multiple studies have shown that each dollar spent locally leads to two to four times that amount in local jobs, income, tax and charitable contributions. There is no magic to it. It’s basic economics that businesses that are local have more local relationships, and that’s what creates this disproportionate positive effect.
Further, strong local businesses maintain community character and keep a sense of place. So by making the decision to keep their money local, shoppers are helping to shape the community they live and work in. If you value your local cafes, independent grocers, IT specialists, art galleries, healthcare providers, plumbers or any other local business then you need to make the decision to spend your money with them.
Does the Chamber have plans for the region?
We definitely want to protect what we have here. The very fabric of Urunga and its surrounds needs to always be preserved. However, we do want to see vibrancy, particularly in town. No place can thrive if allowed to stagnate.
Urunga township still doesn’t have the complete range of essentials for locals. We want full shops and hopefully some growth in available goods and services. Tourism is a key element in this growth and crucial to our survival. We know we need to tread a fine line between maintaining the authenticity and traditions while revitalising and building vibrancy. The Chamber is currently refiguring our mission statement, reflecting this aim for greater vibrancy and sustainable growth. Every questionnaire we have disseminated across Urunga reinforces this mission.
Bellingen Shire Council is currently working on a Local Strategic Planning Statement (LSPS) for the Shire. The LSPS is designed to spell out the strategic planning priorities of Council , as it works towards a vision for where we want to be in the next 20 years. As part of this our Chamber is proposing a master plan for Urunga that reflects our concepts for Urunga’s CBD revitalisation, housing plans including the proposed Urunga subdivision, the Atherton Drive plan and greater connectivity between the disparate regions of Urunga. This would include more cycle paths and walkways and would help to unite us even further.
The proposed subdivision will bring a further 200 families to Urunga, which will provide that critical mass required to make our businesses not only survive but thrive. This type of growth will build vibrancy and resilience.
Are you optimistic for the future of Urunga and its surrounds?
Yes!! We have it all right here- fabulous people, a cohesive community, consumer oriented businesses and natural assets of which we are all so proud. What a wonderful offering. You couldn’t ask for more.