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One curious impact of the coronavirus outbreak is that working from home is suddenly all the rage.

Working from home has even been given a fancy new medical name: ‘social distancing’.

So to everyone who’s now setting up a home office, welcome to the club!  I’ve been ‘social distancing’ for the past four and a half years since I moved from the big smoke and put out my consulting shingle in Lismore.

The people who pay my invoices are largely based in Sydney, so I’m pleased that by working from home in the Northern Rivers I’m not only keeping my germs to myself, I’m helping to bring money into the local economy.

It could well be that once the immediate health crisis has passed, more workplaces feel comfortable with the idea of letting people work from home.

This is potentially good news for Lismore and the Northern Rivers, as it could free more people up to do what I’m doing: working in the city, while living in the country.

Building a stronger local economy

Getting city workers to move to the Northern Rivers, and to bring their jobs with them, will make the local economy less reliant on established industries like agriculture, resources and tourism (which is highly susceptible to shocks like the the coronavirus).

That doesn’t mean those industries won’t still be important, it’s just that we’ll have a broader and more resilient economic base.

In fact, American political scientist Richard Florida, the author of the Rise of the Creative Class, argued that the key to prosperity in the 21st century lays in attracting a high-skilled, high-tech workforce.

Florida argued that these people tend to be more footloose, and tend to live in places that have certain characteristics – including a suitable labour market, a vibrant lifestyle, a nice environment, diversity, and social interaction.

If we take a look at Lismore, many of the building blocks for a successful knowledge-based regional economy are already in place:

  • A local university that attracts students and provides jobs for knowledge workers;
  • A thriving local music scene – built on the foundation of the Conservatorium;
  • A spectacular natural environment, with plenty of opportunities for recreation;
  • A diverse and welcoming community;
  • And, importantly, a great events culture that encourages people to get out and about and socialise.

These are strengths we can, and must, build on.  This weekend’s Eat the Street street party is exactly the sort of event that makes Lismore a fun place to live, while also attracting people from outside the region.  The annual Lantern Parade and the Tropical Fruits festival hit all the right notes too.

And yes, the Lismore Cup also needs to be included in this conversation.  Horse racing might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but a diverse and accepting community caters for everyone.  (Isn’t that the whole point of diversity?)

The event itself brings thousands of locals together, and many more people into the town.  It’s a significant date on the community calendar.

Celebrate Lismore Day

Given the importance of events to our regional economy, it’s been extremely disappointing to watch the long-running and divisive debate in the Lismore Council over the future of the Lismore Cup Day public holiday.

Some Councillors could see only the cost of giving workers some extra time off.  This is a short-sighted approach, and ultimately a self-defeating one.

The Public Service Association of NSW led the community fight to have the save the holiday and give Lismore workers a break.  The campaign was successful, and eventually the majority of Councillors voted to retain the holiday.  It would be great to see Council now take the next step, and turn this holiday into a bigger and better celebration for the whole community

The day could be rebadged as Celebrate Lismore Day.  Council could coordinate a range of events to make the day more meaningful for a broader cross-section of people, including the many local residents who have no affinity with the Cup.

Imagine live music and food vans in the Lismore Quad, games and activities for kids, and an arts competition for local artists.  There are so many possibilities!

Lismore is a great place to live.  We should be proud of it, and we shouldn’t be shy about showing it off.

When the holiday comes around on 24 September 2020, hopefully the COVID19 crisis will have passed, and the only illness going around will be the number of people sick of ‘social distancing’.

Stewart Prins is a Lismore-based communications consultant.  He also also wrote a Masters thesis that examined the application of Richard’s Florida’s Creative Class theory to regional areas, so that’s a bit of a thing for him. Follow him on Twitter @StoremanNorman.

 

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