Nestled in the mouth of the Tamar River in Tasmania, George Town is a treasure trove of natural wonders. With a population of just over 7,100, the tight-knit community takes pride in its rich history as Australia’s third-oldest European settlement and its many attractions.
No-one is more appreciative of the town’s strong community ties than George Town Council CEO Shane Power.
"I take great pleasure in being in an organization that’s close to the people," he says. "We have a strong relationship with our customer base, and we pride ourselves on high customer service standards. That’s reflected not just in metrics, but also in our customer feedback."
The vision is for a community that’ll be progressive, prosperous and proud.
Power admits that maintaining such high standards in an era of instant digital communication is no easy feat, but George Town Council is up to the task.
"Social media has given customers the ability to interact quickly, and reputational damage can occur so fast these days," he explains. "In order to meet customers’ increasing expectations within an organization that has limited resources, we focus on what our core services and values are. Staying close to the people and being responsive to their feedback is at the heart of everything we do."
Since becoming CEO of Council in 2019 after holding leadership roles in multiple local governments, Power has played an instrumental role in George Town’s development through the creation of a new 10-year strategic plan for the municipality.
After putting an end to years of financial difficulty by helping the council achieve a financial surplus in his first year of tenure, Power was able to get the ball rolling on a series of key initiatives.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, we identified 130 families that didn’t have access to technology," he says. "We tapped into the state government’s cache of laptops and provided them to those families so they could do online education. That program is now being supported in perpetuity by the Department of Education. We also helped kick-start a number of new businesses during the pandemic."
Focusing on tourism
With George Town’s heavy industry accounting for 60 percent of Tasmania’s gross rating point, tensions ran high when one of the town’s largest industrial players was looking to close or divest. While they ended up finding another investor at the 11th hour, the council decided it was time to diversify George Town’s economy.
"We live in a beautiful part of the world, so we made a concerted effort to enhance our tourism industry," Power explains. "We stood up a new initiative called Wild Tamar with joint funding from Austrade.
"We’ve rolled out about 80 kilometers of world-class mountain bike trails, we’ve stood up scuba diving and skydiving, and we’re currently doing the infrastructure provisions for a rock-climbing facility. We’re also working with a couple of local business operators to increase fishing charters and seal tours."
Occupying 2,500 hectares, George Town’s Bell Bay Advanced Manufacturing Zone (BBAMZ) is Tasmania’s largest industrial precinct.
With heavy and light industrial zones, Bell Bay includes aluminum smelting, timber processing and steel and plastics manufacturing businesses.
Power sits on the Board of the BBAMZ, which was established in 2015 to allow businesses in the region to better collaborate to grow the region’s capabilities.
Bell Bay is now a nationally declared Hydrogen Hub attracting great interest from small and medium-sized enterprises to Tier-1 companies from across the globe.
At the same time, George Town is focusing on strengthening and future-proofing its vital industry.
"We’re looking at expanding our current industrial development tenfold, and we’re talking about decarbonization with a number of large global players that are well advanced in those plans," Power says.
"Tasmania is already above 100 percent renewable energy and is endeavoring to make that 200 percent. We’re working with existing and new industrial players on investing in future renewables and future fuels."
In a bid to make George Town more attractive to its increasing workforce, the council is putting several initiatives in place – including building a new health and wellbeing center – to improve the town’s livability.
Taking care of youth
George Town also is investing in its future by supporting the community’s youth.
"We’ve attracted funds in excess of a couple of million dollars and we’re auspicing them on behalf of a local community Future Impact Group," Power explains. "We’re doing a number of programs in youth development, including identifying and providing both educational and employment pathways that aren’t the traditional pathways you might see serviced by state and federal programs.
"We procured a restaurant where we partner with a commercial operator, the local training center, state government and community groups to give kids that are doing Certificate IIs and Certificate IIIs in hospitality and tourism real experience on the ground," he continues.
"When we spoke with the industry, they said qualifications are great, but experience is much more valued."
With George Town’s 10-year development strategy underway, the municipality is already reaping the rewards.
We’ve seen a record number of new businesses register in the last couple of years and had a record amount of economic activity.
"We’ve seen a record number of new businesses register in the last couple of years and had a record amount of economic activity," Power notes. "That’s not just investment from business, but it’s our existing businesses benefiting from those strategic efforts. Over the last reporting period, we’ve enjoyed an increase of 25 percent per quarter in local retail spending."
Power puts these impressive results down to thinking outside the box.
"We’re supported by a visionary group of elected representatives, and that gives us the capacity to do things a little bit differently and more brazenly," he explains. "We pride ourselves on having an entrepreneurial mindset that’s different from a typical local government."
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