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Inaugural business conference ignites discussion

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MORE THAN 55 local business owners, regional organisations, and government representatives made history on Thursday, May 16, by participating in the inaugural Whitsunday Business Conference.

The event was a hive of buzzing energy, new connections, ideas and great discussions.

Amanda Camm MPofficially opened the conference, congratulating the chamber on hosting the conference and for making time and space for local businesses to come together, meet and learn.

The program then kicked into raising awareness of the challenges and blocks local businesses are currently navigating.

The major pain points facing the group ranged from the big issues of regional disadvantage, road infrastructure, inflation impacts and insurance, and housing availability and affordability, right through to attracting and keeping high-calibre staff, chasing debtors and managing cash flow, and personal productivity.

Attendees were able to connect with local professionals at the event who might be able to help ease these pain points. Many attendees offered a number of exclusive discounts and services as a way of being part of the solution.

Staffing was a major issue explored in a dedicated panel discussion.

Georgia Lavers,from Greater Whitsunday Alliance, set the scene by introducing their workforce-related initiatives (the Stackable Career Education Program, Educator Professional Learning Program, and the Activate Program) and the work of the Regional Jobs Committee.

Georgia invited attendees — and the broader Whitsunday business community — to share their view in a short survey on workforce challenges.

With housing availability and affordability a hot workforce-related topic, Rob Cocco of Regional Development Australia Greater Whitsundays and Tonia Wilson of Greater Whitsunday Communities provided an impromptu update on initiatives currently in play to address this issue.

In considering how to supercharge your ‘people power’, Amanda Anderson, branch manager of Bendigo Community Bank, drew on her extensive management career.

Her top tactics are to recognise your team with daily genuine care, invest in strengthening the team outside of work hours with social gatherings, and be willing and open to really listen and respond to the team.

Brian Ward, ‘My Pathway’ small business mentor for the Whitsundays and Mackay, had attendees chuckling with his master storytelling.

He recommended the Will/Skill Matrix as a way of thinking about your staff’s skills and motivation to help inform a better course of action for business owners – knowing when to direct, guide, delegate, or excite individual team members.

The second panel discussion didn’t take no for an answer, and attendees heard stories of operational re-invention, digital transformation, and sheer determination.

TAFE Queensland’s Julia Wheway shared how the region’s business community has adapted, in recent years, towards eCommerce, QR codes, online booking systems and virtual meetings.

Within TAFE Queensland, the Whitsunday and Bowen campuses are benefiting from transformations in innovative online learning practices, micro-credentialing, and augmented reality hardware (which she modelled during her presentation!).  

Kristian Mulholland spoke of the game-changing digital innovations the Proserpine Prawn Farm have implemented to automate feeding and water testing, using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Attendees also heard of Andrew Paranomos’ tenacious commitment to his goal to become an owner/operator of a McDonald’s Restaurant.

Attendees enjoyed the personal stories and perspectives presented by the local speakers.

An initiative of the Whitsundays Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the conference is set to become an annual event for the region’s business community.

Attendees provided sound advice on what next year’s program could look like, which will be fed back to the 2025 conference organising committee, with an update in the coming months.

The conference closed with an opportunity to meet Dominque Lamb, the Queensland Small Business Commissioner.

The chamber is an active member of the Commissioner’s Regional Roundtable, ensuring the Whitsundays business community is represented in deliberations.  

The Commissioner outlined her role in championing business needs and advocating necessary change.

She highlighted the free services available to businesses that drive growth and improved operations, all readily available to the Whitsundays with local representatives ready to assist.

The chamber thanked everyone who participated, the speakers and sponsors, for bringing the Whitsunday Business Conference to life, including the Queensland Government’s Regional Networker Grant.

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