A "successful” town should be able to substantially retain its youth and have all of the infrastructure its needs to continue being successful. Kate O'Neill

Building blocks for region's success

IS THERE scope for the Northern Rivers to introduce a second university, and become a leader in agribusiness in order to help the region succeed into the future? Demographer Bernard Salt thinks so.

The renowned social commentator will tell a Northern Rivers lunch today of the potential for growth as a region.

Mr Salt said it all depended on the size of the town but a "successful” town should be able to substantially retain its youth and have all of the infrastructure its needs to continue being successful.

"Young people should see opportunity locally and you need education facilities in order to do that. It should have affordable housing, all of the accoutrements, the institutions you would need for a town of that size - schools and hospitals which need to be up to date,” he said.

"There needs to be a willingness, aspiration and desire for young people to remain in the town. There needs to be entrepreneurship and business activity. You need small businesses that can grow, evolve and employ people in the local area.”

He said the collection of towns which made up the Northern Rivers was sufficiently removed from Brisbane so that the city didn't overpower the region.

"(You need) a culture that is aspirational, creative, entrepreneurial, wants to build and invest their life in that community as opposed to wanting to leave and seeing opportunity elsewhere,” Mr Salt said.

Business opportunities

He said the region should be looking at an expansion in agribusiness.

And with that expansion, quality of agricultural land in the region and access to airports, the region should be asking: "Is there capacity to air freight organic or bespoke agricultural product to parts of Asia?”

"In 20 or 30 years time I would see that that could well be a role of a business for Australia in niche areas such as the Northern Rivers,” Mr Salt said.

"Organic delicate fungi (or mushrooms) are high value, low weight and you don't need hectares to grow it. We should be really good at agribusiness, specialising and with rifle shot accuracy taking what we can produce in the Northern Rivers and getting it into precisely the right market.”

A second university, or niche programs

And to assist people in creating successful businesses in the future, the Northern Rivers needs greater depth in education and training, Mr Salt said.

"Can Southern Cross University be expanded? Can it add faculties and departments? Can it get funding?” he said.

"In an ideal world you would invite Central Queensland University to set-up shop. A second university would create healthy competition. You'd want to focus on building skills - that could be engineering, and allied health and even education.”

Mr Salt suggested TAFE be expanded and/or a "school of excellence” be created on the Northern Rivers.

"Can it be the plumbing excellence for NSW? In other words, 'Here's not just another vocational education training (institute), it's a school of excellence'. That attracts funding, people and students,” he said.

"There's another step beyond that and that is putting in place the building blocks to make a difference to the culture down the track, (which is) where people have the skills to create the jobs and businesses of the 2020s and 2030s, leading to a more successful community 30 years down the track.”