INNOVATION and entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in rural Australia, according to speakers at an innovative conference at Cohuna.
Rural residents have been urged to challenge the narrative that small towns are dying across Australia.
This notion was challenged at the inaugural Small Town Show and Tell mini conference.
The gathering was organised and hosted by the Cohuna Neighbourhood House, attracting representatives from businesses and projects across the State, who converged to share the success stories of entrepreneurship and innovation which have breathed life into their regions. Presentations were made by speakers from across the northern and central parts of Victoria.
Kia-Ora Piggery owner, Tom Smith spoke about his success story of employing Filipino migrants to solve the labour shortage at his piggery, and the subsequent impact that decision had on the town of Pyramid Hill.
"Prior to the Filipino involvement on the farm we really struggled with our efforts with labour. We now have staff who wish to work in the piggery - that is their chosen career," he said.
"Most houses in Pyramid Hill now have employed persons within them rather than people on social benefits. This changes the fabric of our community no end - plus we have extra spending power within the community," he said.
Mr Smith also took the opportunity to talk about the visa restrictions which potentially block immigrant labour moving to places like Pyramid Hill and bringing those economic benefits.
Some of the issues he highlighted included restrictive visas which mean family members must leave the country every three months, a bias toward granting visas to the more "academically inclined" and ignoring those applicants with solid skill sets needed in labour industries, and a lack of access to health care and other tax payer benefits despite being tax payers while they work here.
Ann Durie from Wycheproof spoke about the raging success of the Wycheproof Bakery, a business she and seven other "retail virgins" built from the ground up.
"We average 500 coffees a day," she said.
"Employment for Wycheproof is the biggest impact [of the bakery]," she said.
"We employ three pastry chefs, students, part-timers and so on ... [another benefit is that] other businesses report more trade as a result," she said.
Ms Durie pointed out they are not an anomaly.
"Ours is just one story in a sea of success stories across Victoria," she said.
Kerry Anderson, author of Entrepreneurship: it's everybody's business, and founder of the Operation Next Gen and Be your own boss programs, delivered a talk that spoke of the realities facing small towns in what is fast becoming a 'gig economy.'
Ms Anderson said that with an ageing population and technological advancements which change the way industries operate, small towns must adapt if they are to stay viable.
"We need to change the conversation from job seeking to job creation," she said.