Transitions in rural Tasmania

Can Scottsdale make it as a ‘turnaround town’?

Northeastern Tasmania is a place of fertile chocolate brown basalt soils, good rainfall and a mix of mineral and timber resources. Scottsdale is the regional centre, a town of some 2,400 people a little over an hour’s drive from Tasmania’s second biggest city, Launceston.

With the rich natural assets of the northeast, Scottsdale has had a good run of economic opportunity. But a series of business decisions made hundreds of kilometres away have pulled the rug out from under the traditional mainstays of this rural community.

The district’s potato packing plant closed in 2002. This took 110 jobs with it, and left growers with one less option to add value to their product. And in 2012 timber giant Gunns went into receivership – a consequence of misreading market signals for global hardwood chip demand, overinvestment in Tasmanian forests and plantations, and a 30-year struggle over access to State-owned native forests. Two timber mills near Scottsdale had already been closed in 2010 and 2011, losing the jobs of their workers as well as many jobs in logging and timber transport.

On the positive side, regional opportunities are in:
• Irrigated agriculture
• Trail of the Tin Dragon tourism route
• Mountain biking recreational trails
• DSTO Scottsdale upgrades
• Cape Portland windfarm.

This confluence of pressures on a rural town is not unusual in Australia. What’s the future for this historically tight-knit community of survivors? There are some who want to see the return of farming as the economic driver, others are looking at health and aged services, others again at tourism. How might these scenarios play out, and how can the community visualise and assess them?

Our analysis of the latest business and demographic data for the town of Scottsdale in northeastern Tasmania shows that it is working its way through a major transition. If successful, the town will be able to turn around from a primary industries and manufacturing base to become a hub for high quality services.

The analysis is being done by us as part of a team of national experts in regional communities who are being funded in 2013 by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to work with selected towns on pathways to “Securing wealth and wellbeing for rural communities” (www.rirdc.gov.au/research-projectdetails/custr10_DRC/PRJ-008426).

In recent years Scottsdale has seen significant changes:
• The town has a stable overall population, but a lot of movement, with over 10% of residents in 2011 newcomers since 2006
• The newcomers are in two broad age groups (younger families and near-retirees) and two broad income groups (lower incomes and small number with high incomes),
• The actual size of the labour pool has started to shrink, because the long-term resident population is aging with many crossing the magical 65 line to formally retire. More people of younger working age will be needed to keep the labour pool active and supply the workforce that the town’s businesses will need in the future.
• While 150 plus jobs were lost from primary and processing industries in Scottsdale, almost half that number were created in service industries like hospitality, public services and health and aged care. Scottsdale’s employment diversity is increasing, while the population is stable – hallmarks of a turnaround town.

So what does the future hold for Scottsdale? A toolkit for the community which will enable various scenarios to be played out in ‘windows on the future’ was presented to a community meeting on 11 September this year. There was a very positive response to the approach, and we hope that this positivism translates into a good number of people completing the survey that is currently being run in the town.

The scenarios we will test cover:
1. Resurgence in agricultural (production and employment) led by capturing opportunities from new irrigation infrastructure;
2. Higher levels of tourism in the district – leading to more tourism businesses, employment and visitor spending;
3. Population changes such as more retirees moving in, or more low income families moving in, and
4. Growth in the breadth of health and active aging services in the community.

The community survey is the next critical step, as it will provide tangible evidence of residents’ perception and expectations, which will be processed through our choice modelling partners to identify the tipping points and thresholds that will either keep people in Scottsdale or trigger them to leave.

The modelling enables us to see what types of people are most influenced by each characteristic of the community, and we are then able to show how that influence will play out. So, for example, if young families are most influenced by the continuation of the high school, then we can model in the demographic impact of the loss of some young families should the high school close. This lets the community see the flow on impacts of real local decisions.

Each of the four scenarios can then be evaluated to see what the short term and long term impacts on the community will be. It will help the community work out just what the potential gains might be from a resurgence in agriculture (how many jobs, what sort of people), or from tourism, or from an influx of retirees. This will help the community see how a mix of changes will play out across Scottsdale, and whether or not the trade-offs from growth in one area will compensate for losses that are expected in other areas.

One thought on “Transitions in rural Tasmania

  1. Pingback: Transitions in rural Tasmania | Strategic Economic Solutions

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