BUSINESS owners will form a new committee with the Ararat Regional Business Association, after they came together to discuss next steps for the association.
ARBA hosted a meeting Wednesday night at Chalambar Golf Club after it previously announced it would seek to re-form following a year of inactivity, with help from Ararat Rural City Council.
It was well attended by a broad range of representatives, from Ararat farmer Charlie de Fegely to Willaura baker Peter Sporton.
The primary aim of the meeting was to gauge interest in forming a committee, but business owners took the opportunity to discuss the barriers ARBA may need to address.
One of those was the generational gap between business owners.
Josh Bywater is the proprietor of Harvey Norman and is in his 20s, and said he'd had reservations about attending based on his age and relative newness to the business sector.
"Effectively my stand-offishness about coming here tonight came down to two factors - what do I have to offer and will it be listened to?" he said.
For that reason, Mr Bywater said ARBA needed to find ways to connect with younger business owners and encourage their input.
"It's why I'm very strong on having a spread of people in the committee, because if it's all the same demographic it's just not going to work," he said.
"Realistically, if there's a couple of young people, a couple of older people, and a couple of people in the middle we can really get some ideas going.
"I don't know if it's a misconception or not but the question of 'will I be listened to' is a very big question because it's 'what would I know, I've only done it for a year.'
"Whereas these guys have done it and tried it but the younger lot have a lot of different ideas to put into it.
"That's what I want to put into it - the perspective of the 20-something year old."
Bringing in more creativity
Willaura business owner and designer Dianne Cook said council needed to help facilitate an environment that encouraged creative industries to flourish.
"(Creative people) are change makers and they change the status quo and give growth to new businesses and ideas," she said.
Ms Cook said establishing a more tight-knit business community through ARBA which encouraged diversity would benefit the region.
"When you have good relationships, good things happen in the community," she said. "It's also about bigger businesses connecting with smaller businesses and giving them a helping hand."
ARBA president Robert Bell told the meeting that as far as he was concerned, if a person has a business, they're a business person.
It didn't matter how big, small or otherwise that business was.
To that end, Ararat Rural Council is investigating the option of opening up a co-working space in the vacant building adjacent to the office of the Ararat Advertiser on Ligar Street.
Council chief executive Tim Harrison said he hoped it would encourage micro and small business owners to visit and form ties with each other.
"The co-working space will directly support those more silent aspects of the business community - those who don't have a shop front or don't have a presence," he said.
"We're trying to create somewhere for people who have a home-based business or a micro-business ... an opportunity to get together and collaborate with and meet other people.
"We've had a survey and there are a lot of younger mothers who have got kids who are kindergarten age or early school age, and they have a home-based business. They want somewhere they can drop in and just work with other people for an hour or so every day.
"ARBA really need to reach into that part of the business community as well. You look at the numbers nationally, it's a significant number of businesses that are home-based and there's often not that opportunity to connect into that broader business community and be seen as a legitimate part of it."
Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman also attended the meeting to show the organisation's willingness to collaborate with businesses.
"As an organisation we're here to support businesses in the region and help them identify opportunities in the business economy, and I think together we can be a really united front to support the visitor experience," he said.
"There are some really positive stats coming from all our stats showing amazing growth in visitor numbers to the region.
"We have some great initiatives, we have great new partners coming on from the Ararat Shire around food and wine. The growth in participation from industry in Ararat into supporting destination marketing is the best it's ever been in 10 years."
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Mr Sleeman said Ararat was a key gateway hub into the Grampians.
"As a gateway hub and a commercial centre, the visitor economy is a crucial partner in what we do. I know over the last 12 months there has been a greater engagement from businesses in Ararat.
"People are coming through and stopping and restaurants are opening for longer hours on weekends to support that, which is fantastic. It shows there is a real confidence from businesses in the region to support the visitor economy.
"I think once ARBA are re-united through council support, it's a fantastic platform to grow the economy through our region."
Next steps for ARBA
ARBA treasurer Graeme Foster said the turn-out at the meeting indicated great things on the way for the district's business sector.
"It's fantastic," he said. "It's been an overwhelming evening. We've reached out to vast sectors of the community and people have traveled far and wide, from the Willaura Bakery and Lake Bolac.
"We've had a lot of positive feedback and there's a lot of positive energy in the room and everyone was open to hear other people's points of view.
"The level of support that's coming forward is diverse, which is what we need to make a group like this work with the vision of having a broad-based membership focusing on key strategic issues and working with council."
ARBA will now start to contact those who attended the meeting and begin forming a committee ahead of its August annual general meeting.
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