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The Hills Round Table in action. The Hills Round Table in action. Featured
12 July 2019 Posted by 

MARKETING THE SYDNEY HILLS

Key priorities to compete in the region
IN May, 15 influential people attended the 2019 Sydney Hills Round Table to discuss strategies to markert the region. Following is an edited treanscriopt of the session held at The Pioneer Theatre at Castle Hill.
Nigel Rayner:  Welcome everyone. So, to open up, we might just go around the table quickly and just get a bit of a snapshot of who you are and where you’re from.
 
Tony Merhi: My name is Tony Merhi. I am the CEO and owner of Merc Capital and affiliated companies.  We’re primarily developers and builders but we also own and operate successful retail, leisure, office and industrial assets. We also invest in technology and gaming start-ups.  =
 
Alex Thorp:  Alex Thorpe is my name.  I’m with Acquisitions and Development at Lewis Land Group. We’re a private Sydney based development business.  We develop anything from Master Planned communities, pubs and retail shopping centres.  We haven’t done a lot in The Hills area.  But we do own The Fiddler Hotel which we’ve owned since 2003.  And I was involved in the purchase of that and the redevelopment of that in 2006.  And now, we’re building a Mercure Hotel there at the moment – a 78 room hotel which we’re opening in July.  So, pretty excited about that. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  Well, today’s a good start.  You’ll learn lots of things today. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  Simon?
 
Simon File:  So, I’m Simon File.  I’m the Senior Partner at Crowe Horwath – or now called Findex.  Based up the top of Norwest Boulevarde.  I was the Founding Partner of that office out there.  Moved out from the city in 2005. And our reason for coming out here was that we wanted to bring top tier levels of accounting and tax advice out to The Hills.  We saw the area growing and prospering, and saw the prospects for the future as being extremely strong.  So, we wanted to be – you know – be local, be part of the community.  And I think we’ve enjoyed that over the last sort of 14, 15 years. The wider firm:  there’s 110 offices.  Fifth largest accounting firm in Australia.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Thanks Simon.
 
Amanda Brisot:  I’m Amanda Brisot.  I’m General Manager of the Western Sydney Business Connection. We are obviously a Western Sydney-wide networking business engagement group.  We’ve been around in the region for 30 or so years.  We focus mainly on the SME – the small to medium enterprise market.  We do a lot in the space of industry development, advocacy, business networking and professional development.
 
Sam McCarthy:  Sam McCarthy.  I’m from Macquarie Bank.  We’ve had an office in Western Sydney, out at Parramatta, for the last 15 years.  I’m one of the Directors out of that office.  And we focus on private family businesses that are looking to grow in property services – so real estate agents, strata, professional services and commercial property investors. So really excited to be here and be a part of what’s happening in the growth of Western Sydney.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Thank you.
 
Joan Stone:  Thanks, Michael, for inviting me.  I’m Joan Stone, Cubbyhouse Child Care and also Young Scholars at Norwest and I have two RTOs. We have 760 students from oversease at the moment at our Kent Street centre in the City. They stayed three days out here at Norwest because there was no train line.  So hopefully, now there’s going to be a train line, we’ll be able to fill our office as well, in the Council Chamber building.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Thanks Joan. Darryl?
 
Darryl McAllister:  My name is Darryl McAllister.  I own an IT services business.  We’re based in Norwest.  My business is called NetCare.  We’re across the road from Hillsong.  So, we’re also immediately across the road from the train station that’s opening this Sunday.  And that’s going to be very exciting for our business – which I guess we’ll talk about more during this session. A focus for our business is medium sized organisations. architects, engineers, construction is where we think we do our best work.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Excellent.
 
Tim Spencer:  Executive General Manager of Mulpha Norwest, the parent developer of Norwest Business Park.  We essentially control about 40% of the future growth of the business park – whatever that growth might end up.  But we’ve been around for 25 years.  And I think it would take us about that long to get through the rest of it.  So, quite an interesting journey for The Hills.
 
Michael Edgar:  Michael Edgar, General Manager of The Hills Shire Council.  I’ve worked in Local Government for nearly 35 years.  I’ve been here at The Hills for 14 of those years and  General Manager for the last two. And thanks for the invite today.  It’s great to be here.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Thank you.
 
Michael Walls:  I’m Michael Walls.  I’m the publisher of Western Sydney Business Access.  We also have several other publications in different sectors.  And we’ve been doing the Round Tables now for about five years.  We’ve had about 40 of them.  And this is our second one we’ve done in The Hills. It’s great to see everyone here today. And it’s such an impressive group of people. So, thanks for coming.
 
Dave Moreton:  My name is Dave Morton and I work for the GPT Group.  And my role is actually the lead role at Rouse Hill Town Centre.  So that’s one of GPT’s assets that we own in Australia.  There’s two more that I manage as well – one up in The Hunter – Charlestown Square – and there’s one in Leichhardt as well, which is Norton Plaza.  So, Rouse Hill itself there used to be a golf course but now, it’s 11 years old and it’s really hit its straps for the last few years.  And recently, it was quite a bit – it’s the twelfth most productive shopping space in Australia, which is pretty phenomenal it’s only recently been built.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Thank you.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  Thank you.  Mina Karpouzas, Manager of TAFE Services for NSW TAFE.  Thank you very much for the invite.  My role carries four distinct pillars which are Operational delivery across five campuses in the Western Sydney region, Customer Relations with Industry and communit.  Schools to work collaborate and create pathways and lastly Customer Experience.  I’m excited to be here and look forward to some great opportunities.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Thank you.
 
Angus Gordon:  Thank you.  Angus Gordon, Senior Development Manager with GPT. As you heard from Dave, a lot of people call me Gus.  So, feel free. I’m working on the expansion of Rouse Hill Town Centre, which we’re looking to get underway some time in 2020 along with looking at the Master Planning for the Northern Precinct, which we’re also quite excited about and looking how we position that land to respond to the infrastructure investment and changing nature of The Hills and the economy that’s emerging out here. And I think in relation to Rouse Hill Town Centre from a GPT perspective, that’s certainly been a game changing project – not just for Rouse Hill and The Hills, but also for us as an organisation. 
 
 
Andrew Frank:  Andrew Frank.  I’m the Founding Partner of Frank Law.  We’re a boutique corporate law firm.  We have matured from a more general practice to being very specific in terms of corporate advisory/corporate restructuring.  We provide a sophisticated area of advice for Family Law, particularly where there are significant business structures and corporate structures involved in the asset pool.  We were in Baulkham Hills. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  Thank you.  And thanks everyone for the introductions.  So, today’s Round Table is following up from a Round Table held back in December 2016. I think Andrew and the two Michaels were involved in that.  So, that first Round Table was about opportunities, road blocks and solutions for The Hills.  So, today is a follow-up. But, today is a little bit different.  We’re actually talking about growth and how we can actually leverage off the development and the growth we’ve had in The Hills and market better to the outside world.  So, we know how fantastic The Hills is.  But we need to make sure that our staff, developers, other businesses are attracted and know how good it is here too.  So, you’re here today to give some input into that. But, out of the first Round Table – and you’ve each got a copy there, to have a read at any time.  But the key things that came out of that were:
• Traffic, Norwest Boulevarde
• Access to talent.  So, getting the right staff attracted and retained in The Hills. 
• Obviously, the big building developments at that stage.
 
And I think we can all look back and say, since December 2016 till today, there’s been some ginormous change in The Hills. It’s a once in a lifetime transformation going on.  And obviously, part of that is the Sydney Metro Norwest Rail Line. So again, as I said, we know how good The Hills is. We need to find a strategy and a vision and clearly disseminate that to others that don’t.  How at the moment do you leverage that to your staff or to other businesses to attract them to The Hills? Does anyone have any strategy that they employ at the moment that’s effective?
 
Tim Spencer:  I don't know if it’s effective.  But we literally just put on an additional Sales Consultant to get on the road.  Our traditional market has been probably 95% local and within a kind of 15 kilometre radius.  And we’ve just kind of consciously put someone on to really start reaching into Chatswood and reaching into Parramatta and start building our connections into those spaces. Historically, we let people come to us, rather than go to them.  And two weeks ago, we put someone on to get out there.
 
Alex Thorp:  We did something similar actually.  And I mean the growth in a pub business is really functions.  There’s only so many people.  I mean we’re pretty full-on at Saturday night and Sunday lunch.  It’s during the week that pubs need patrons.  And we really fill that void with functions.  So we’ve put a new functions person on.  They’ve been travelling around Norwest over the last couple of weeks in particular, and had fantastic traction. We get a lot of wakes.  We’ve got a cemetery almost across the road.  So, we have four or five wakes a week.  People drink at a wake.  So, that’s really the growth in our business.  And, you know, it’s limited at the moment because we just haven’t tapped into particularly Norwest and other parts of the region.  So, that’s something we’re focussing on.
 
Nigel Rayner:  And those particular staff members – what’s their sort of agenda?  How do they work for you guys?
 
Tim Spencer:  We’re currently putting together just a little bit of a brochure – whether it be kind of “Why Norwest?” or – attracting people to the area, as opposed to selling the product.  So, we’re just trying to change our focus a little bit to be away from specific partners or townhouses or land lots to actually Norwest:  Why would you bring your family or your business to Norwest.  So, you know, I think there’s probably ample opportunity for contribution into that.
 
Michael Walls:  Is that a marketing campaign, Tim, that you’re doing?
 
Tim Spencer:  Essentially a roadshow.  So, you know, we’re looking to reach into that next ring, I guess, of people that we think would come to Norwest.  You know. Why wouldn’t you live in Norwest, as opposed to Chatswood?  Or, Why would you take your business to Parramatta when you can probably come and get more support in a local community in Norwest, and grow – and then feed into Parramatta once you’re big enough?
 
Andrew Frank:  It sounds like you’re recognising your clients to be people and not commodities.
 
Tim Spencer:  I would definitely think that’s right.  I’d hope that’s right. 
 
Andrew Frank:  Well, I think a lot of businesses don’t.  I think a lot of peole see them as commodities.
 
Tim Spencer:  We actually have had a big movement away from what our product is.  And, you know, historically our product is actually bricks and mortar and dirt – right?  Our product’s not that.  Our product is actually the community increasing and support frame that we can sell them.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  In my opnion I believe that the new rail network will change it up and we need to consider this.
 
Tim Spencer:  The lifestyle.So we’ve kind of recognised – and I’ll put up my hand – Norwest Business Park hasn’t done that very well, really, over the last 25 years.  Our amenity at Norwest has been reasonably poor.  And I think that has definitely shown through the 20 to 30 year old exodus out of The Hills. So, we’re very conscious of trying to support that, in due course, as much as we can.
 
Michael Edgar: I think too, speaking as a large diverse employer in The Hills, there’s no one answer that will give you the silver bullet to solve your attraction and retention woes.  We are lucky.  We traditionally have single digit staff  turnover per annum and that’s over approximately 580 emplyees.  So that  tells us we’re doing a lot of little things right.  The key professions that we do  struggle with is in the Engineering and the Town Planning fields.   The reason we struggle is that we are competing with big utilities organisations, developers and consultancies in this economic cycle.  If you think of the infrastructure spend in NSW over the last 2 terms of this Government, those projects and the activity that cascades off it, provides a lot of opportunities.  These conditions have prevailed now for over 5 years and it has taken a lot of capacity – both in terms of resources, plant, equipement and  labour as well.  So, we need to compete in that environment.  It means we don’t have as many candidates to choose from but once we do recruit someone, we tend to hang on to them.
 The other area of the business where we struggle is with our outdoor workforce.  We seem to have constantly somewhere between 10 and 15 vacancies at a time and the candidates we attract are very small in  number and it takes a long time to fill those positions.  Some of the problem is related to where our workers in these areas live and generally, for affordability reasons that is outside our Shire.  So, that’s where linkages into our Shire are incredibly important.  A lot of our employees come from as far away as Penrith, south of Campbelltown, Hawkesbury, Blacktown and Parramatta.  So, if it wasn’t for regional links like Motorways and metros, those motorways workers wouldn’t be here.  So clearly, there’s a need  to not only have housing that business owners want to live in – and our jobs are going to be grown primarily by existing businesses, we need to have a diverse housing product and lifestyle that suits a broader workforce.  Your organisation’s got to be very attentive and attuned to your staff’s needs and the markets you’re operating in – who you’re competing with.
 
Nigel Rayner:  And you touched on about the staffing.  So, we may as well go down that path at the moment.  You mentioned about Engineering and Town Planning, for example.  I’m in Recruitment and HR, and my background’s Engineering.  So, I know it pretty well.  But also, the labour force – do you think – with the labour force it’s hard because, again, a person mowing a lawn can quite easily go to a construction site, getting a Traffic Controller ticket and be paid quite well – and Engineering – do you think they’re both just holes in the market that aren’t applicable just to The Hills?  It’s industry-wide, Australia-wide?
 
Michael Edgar:  It certainly is. I think I wouldn’t be the only Council that struggles in those areas.  Right across the State.
 
Alex Thorp:  Some Councils do it tougher than others.  I mean we’ve been doing some work at Wollondilly, and they cannot get Planners.  I mean they’ve got a backlog of DAs as far as your eye can see.  It’s insane.
 
Tim Spencer:  I’d like to throw something out there, though, in regards to attracting tenants – talent.  And Michael, you’ve touched on two things:  the importance of housing diversity so that you can travel through your journey of life and stay within your local community.  I’m a massive believer in that.  And so, whether you’re mowing lawns or you’re getting a lift up to a Traffic Controller, or getting into the office and becoming a shiny bum, or becoming an exec – there’s a journey to be had there that, you know, the housing diversity should support, within your local community, so you don't have to leave your local community because once you’ve made a mate, you don't want to move an hour away when you have to move houses because you’ve got a couple of kids.
 
Mina Karpouzas:   There are two markets, those that come to live and those that come for a short stay.  They make for a unique marketing campaign.  Those that come to live here want everything in their community – lifestyle.  However those that come for a short stay this needs to be marketed differently.
 
Tim Spencer:  Well look, I think The Hills has the housing typology.  Probably what The Hills is lacking is the bottom end of the scale, right – the affordability side. So that could be a policy thing. But I think Hills has a real advantage over some of the other super growth areas in Sydney in regards to its current infrastructure and housing typology.  You can make it work. In regards to the Metro being an $8 billion piece of infrastructure that’s exciting to work on – well, guess what, The Hills has easily got in excess of $10 billion worth of development to be had in the next kind of decade to two decades.  And if we package that up and pitch to those, like a well founded, controlled sell/pitch proposition, then I think the talent is there.  It’s super exciting in regards to the opportunities the talent in our area can have. How many regional centres are there in Australia?  Five?
 
Simon File:  Just a question.  If you follow that process through, where are these people living today?  And why are they not making the decision to move there?  And – yes – so, answer the first question.  Where do you think those people are today?  Where do I find the people that are working in Norwest living today?
 
Tim Spencer:  Essentially kind of through the middle.  You’d call it the Inner West or that next ring out of the CBD.
 
Simon File:  OK.
 
Tim Spencer:  They’re moving West – not coming in.  That’s my experience, anyway.
 
Dave Moreton: But what’s going to draw them out here?  Is it going to be lifestyle?  Absolutely, it’s going to be lifestyle.
 
Michael Edgar:  I think you’ve got to be a bit careful too.  When you look at our demography and the movement of people – we’re very strong in the 0 to 18 year olds and then from age 35, right the way through.  
 
Dave Moreton:  Michael, which is great for us as a Shopping Centre.  That’s young families.
 
Michael Edgar:   I think you’ve got to get into the heads of the 18 to 35 year olds to see why they leave.  I don't think you don't have to go too far from our own selves to know what we were doing at 18 to 35.  This is the period of your life that you are entering the workforce, participating in tertiary study and exploring what the world has to offer and there is no doubt Cities are a huge attraction to young people.  So, I don't think we need to be all things to all people necessarily.  . 
 
Dave Moreton:  But I guess you mentioned the return, people return.  Where do they go in the first place?
 
Michael Edgar:  To chase their dreams and see what life has to offer I think.
 
Amanda Brisot: So,to understand it instinctively that, from a talent attraction perspective – and I’d be interested to hear your views – what you struggle with is the kind of young guns, attracting them. What you don't struggle with is robably the middle aged people that are settling down and having a family. And whether or not we will ever be in a position – I’m talking from Western Sydney, not just a Hills perspective – where we will attract the young guns – and I certainly know that, EY and Deloitte and all those guys, they definitely struggle for that kind of talent which is their bread and butter, I think.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Is that just for the industry in general or just The Hills?
 
Simon File:  I mean, look, people want to give the city a go at that age – the lifestyle and  the opportunity. But I think, with some of these developments that are going on with bringing pubs in. I mean when we first started in the office out here, there wasn’t a pub in Norwest which is just ridiculous.  So having some more facilities like that – what the Colossimos are doing around the Town Centre and the development out at Rouse Hill and being able to jump on a train and go from Norwest out to Rouse Hill, if you wanted to.  I mean that’s pretty cool.
 
Dave Moreton:  Can I just challenge the view, though. My one is based on the fact that:  does everyone want to go into the City?
 
Simon File:  No.  They don’t. 
 
Dave Moreton:  There seems to be a shift and it may be something about affordability,  of kids having to go to Tertiary education but actually stay at home through education, as opposed to having to go to a different location.  And that’s what maybe causing the drain, where there’s actually no Tertiary education in the Shire to keep them here. 
 
Simon File:  It’s not far away though, I mean, Parramatta or Macquarie.
 
Dave Moreton:  And the rail will make that easier.  There’s no doubt about it.  It does make it a lot more accessible. 
 
Tim Spencer:  But I’ll quickly throw it out there.  The young guns want it all right?  And the young guns want to be able to get into the market reasonably early in regards to investment .And then they want a global platform. The city gives them a global platform. Now in my opinion where the world is going in terms of breaking down into smaller SMEs and the connection of those SMEs and the abilities of those to go global, it is the way we get those young guns to stay in The Hills.  If they’ve got opportunities to actually take an equity stake in a small SME that has global reach, there’s the power.  They don’t need to go into the city and work for one of the big guys.  No-one wants to work for the big guys any more.
 
Joan Stone:  No. 
 
Tim Spencer:  Right?  They can’t take an equity stake in that. I think there’s a very limited few that want to go and work for the big boys. I’m regarding Macquarie Bank as one of the big boys.  But I actually think there’s a general movement away from them.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  Can I just also add:  I guess TAFE is just down the corridor.  So, we’ve got Baulkham Hills and Castle Hill.  So that needs to be noted.  But, in addition to that, I am working with a couple of the industries in my local fotot print profiling and getting a good understand.  What I can say is a private hospital  down the corridor who once upon a time struggled to retain employees is now finding it easier. One of their key attractions to attracting their new recruits is the new rail line and most of their workforce don’t live in the area.  They’re out of the area.  The new rail line will bring a positive outcome to many.  We’re on a new era.
 
Dave Moreton:  I think, from my point of view, in terms of who we employ in the Shopping Centre, the difference it’s made for us embracing diversities has been really key.  So, returning women from childbirth – it’s been really, really good in terms of jobshares as well.  So, rather than having one head count, we’ve actually got 1.2 headcounts where we’ve got people doing three days and people doing three days and crossing over.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  That’s amazing.  We need more of that.
 
Dave Moreton:  And it really does make a difference because you’re retaining top quality talent.  But their feeling is that it’s on a basis where they can become comfortable and they can also not miss their kids growing up which is obviously really, really essential.  But celebrating that, recognising that is just really really important.  I mean, you know, maybe the area could be renowned for that. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  Darryl, basically you wanted to touch on that point?
 
Darryl McAllister:  Well, I think it was just to reaffirm the fact that, I think something we’ve done very successfully in our business over many years is we’ve got very high retention of our staff over a number of years.  I think at least a third of my staff have accrued long service leave.
 
Tim Spencer:  Any young guns?  Do you employ young guns, or what’s your demographic?
 
Darryl McAllister:  Oh well, we have a mix. Like I’ve certainly always had the strategy that if the IT industry has got a problem with shortage, then every company, big or small, has got to do its bit to bring people through from the beginning. And we’ve had a lot of success from TAFEs over the years. My Operations Manager now who earns a six digit salary.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  That’s good to know.
 
Darryl McAllister: Graduated from Baulkham Hills TAFE and as a second career type situation.  And he’s just fabulous.  He’s been great for our business. And it was about the fact that because of our location in Norwest, we tend to attract a certain type of person in the first place – perhaps not the person that wants the City job.  And so, that just means that all my staff come to work.  They always turn up on time. I guess the point I’m trying to get across is that we all come into work.  We work hard during the day.  We’ve got our customers to look after.  There’s a little bit of fun every now and again.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  I mean, if we’re trying to attract what we call “young guns” what about looking at it targetting schools.  You’ve got a lot of Year 12s who don’t want to actually go to Uni, who just want to go in and earn some money before they decide what they want to do.  If we can bring some more trainneeships and apprenticeships that will really benefit.

Darryl McAllister:   I’ve had a couple of conversations spot-on in that we change our kind of continual education approach and the traineeships, the apprenticeships, the mentorships.  I just couldn’t agree more massively.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  Joan you’ve got and you know, early childhood centres.  It’s just really about collaborating and working together, because the schools are hungry for it.  And when I go to the schools and I talk to the Principals, I mean they’re equally expressing the same type of concern that there isn’t enough happening. 
 
Tim Spencer:  I think I’m getting encouraged by the young people’s ability to actually see authenticity and to see through fake news and to know what’s real and not.  They work it out really quick.  So, if your business isn’t authentic, then you’ll dropped off pretty quickly. The authenticity of The Hills is also the connection to heritage which is the older people and the experiences. What I’m also seeing across the board is that younger family. We are seeing people have kids younger.
 
Andrew Frank:  If we’re talking about growing The Hills and growing Western Sydney, I mean there are two fundamental principles, aren’t there?  There has to be employment opportunities for them.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  That's right.
 
Andrew Frank:  At the end of the day, we have to ensure that the marketplace – that is, the people in Greater Sydney – see the employment opportunities here in Western Sydney.  What are we doing about marketing that and raising the profile of those employment opportunities?
 
Mina Karpouzas:  Correct.
 
Andrew Frank:  And the second fundamental principal is:  people need a house.  And encouraging housing closer to work, you’ll have a happier family, as a matter of principle, I would have thought. And we talk about attracting young guns and they want to be in the City.  Our firm is about 20, 22 in staff.  The majority of them are much younger than me. And they all are local.  They’re all local people.  They’ve graduated from various Universities in Sydney.  So, they’ve gone in different directions and have come back.  At the end of the day, the young people who want to go into the City as it were, for the highlights – the glitzy lights – that’s only a phase.  At the end of the day, the cycle of life is:  we will marry, we will have families. Employment, housing and accommodating families has to be the three priorities that a region like The Hills has to be focussing on.
 
Darryl McAllister: We’ve always recruited successfully from people within a 15, 20 minute commute.  Someone said earlier – I think you were saying from inside.  But ours are more from outside – around Rouse Hill and the new areas that are going up there..
 
Mina Karpouzas:  That's right.
 
Darryl McAllister:  They’re baling out of the bus trip down the M2 every day.  And we’ve got people working for us.  I can think of one example of someone who used to work in the City.  And they’ve bought a home in one of the new estates and they’ve moved in there. They’re of Indian background.  They’ve got all their friends.  There’s lots of IT people with Indian backgrounds who live in this area.  And like a couple of days a week he leaves at 2 o'clock, there’s something to do with sharing with his wife – I don't know the details – but he goes and picks up his son.  And I notice sometimes the son’s sitting in the boardroom for a couple of hours and then something happens.  And I don't know what the story is.  But then someone comes and picks them up or something like that.  And it’s just all part of the give and take.
 
Dave Moreton:  And that’s what Tim was talking about. That’s the authenticity of the organisation.  If people can know they can do that. That’s a really good thing.
 
Nigel Rayner:  OK.  Tim mentioned about the massive attractors. So now, we’re going to flip to two of the guys that are based outside of The Hills.  What do you think are the massive attractors for someone to come to The Hills?  How do you see the lie of the land from outside of The Hills?
 
Sam McCarthy:  I think the lifestyle and getting away from the City for families is the attractor.  We’re based in Parramatta and struggle with exactly the same sort of issues with people even though we have direct transportation lines.  There are probably also unconscious and conscious biases that are also slowly being overcome as people question the calibre of staff, businesses and opportunities in the west.  Across all the professional service businesses I speak to, they’re all looking for key staff.  They’d probably like to pick up one or two key senior managers that they just can’t attract because they may well be facing competition in the City. But I think the amount of professional service opportunities that are in Norwest are amazing – per capita, I believe, the area has one the highest concentration of professional services in the country.  When you combine the lifestyle and ability to have workplace flexibility, I think that becomes very attractive to people who live or are thinking of moving to the area. So, I see the opportunity and the sell is really from that lifestyle perspective. Some of the things that are changing are workplace flexibility and workplace culture. We have a lot of people that will work from home or offices outside the city one or two days a week and that flexibility has transformed their lives, whilst still maintaining strong client outcomes.    So, if you can build in that flexibility and culture with your workforce, then that builds a different proposition where you can help people live their best lives. We all ideally want a region you can live, work and play in.
 
Amanda Brisot:   And technology’s come so far.  But that’s an easy thing to facilitate, isn’t it? 
 
Sam McCarthy:  Absolutely.  In our business, people happily work from home.  And there has to be trust, obviously.  But it’s changing enormously.  Most people would work from home at least one day a week.  But there’s a massive amount of flexibility.  People leave loudly and our leaders lead by example, whilst maintaining strong client outcomes in a location and time that suites both clients and staff.
 
Alex Thorp:  That’s so true. Look, even simple things of being flexible about your start and finish times. We’ve got staff that it suits their family situation for them to start at 6:00 in the morning.  And they beat the traffic.  Their work sometimes is in the traffic.  So, it makes it easier to service main streets and pick up kerbside linen and clean the streets when there’s no-one on them, so they can go home and get the school run.  And obviously the other partner in the household is obviously doing the morning run and working back a little bit later. So when you’ve got a little bit of flexibility about your start and finish times it’s a huge difference.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  Can I also add to that too?  Organisations are using training as a way of retaining and attracting into their organisations and its working. Organisations are paying for training their staff.  That’s actually booming right now.  TAFE NSW can assist.
 
Amanda Brisot:  Any specific kind of training that works better than others?
 
Mina Karpouzas:  We have noticed an increase in the Leadership and Business.  TAFE NSW have over 1200 courses.  We work in the B2B space and can work to customise the delivery of a programme – so its real and means something to that organisation.  I know one organisation specifically where in the past, they would have have about 20 applicants, the fact that they’ve mentioned training this bolstered their applicants to 100.  I mean that’s enormous.
 
Tony Merhi:  We’ve never had any issue attracting workers here.  I recall that a couple of years ago we advertised for an Accountant and had  over 300 applicants apply.
 
Andrew Frank:  What position was that?
 
Tony Merhi:  Accountant. ll our staff are quite happy to work here and most of them don’t live in the area. This is particularly the case with staff coming against traffic from City area.  In those circumstances an hour trip in one direction could be only 20 minutes in the other.  That’s the attraction. And on another note we were talking earlier about apartments in Pennant Hills selling for $1 million.  We actually built three buildings in the Rouse Hill Shopping Centre. We built large three bedroom apartments in that area.  We achieved sales at prices up to $1.3 million.
 
Michael Edgar: Council’s a very diverse business.  For example the council is into Aged Care services, Child Care, civil services, maintenance services, parks and recreation, economic development, events, community development, regulatory services, library services, property and the professional services I mentioned before. Then there’s the Corporate back-of-office.  We have an in house lawyer, accountants, IT, Human resources, and customer service officers so you can see just how diverse Councils have become.  And you’re absolutely right.  There are certain jobs that will attract 100+ applicants but there are other jobs that you might get one or two. So, there are different bits of your business that will be easier to fill than others.
 
Tony Merhi:  I don't understand the difficulty with recruiting planners. Planning is only a three year University course. But this is where the system fails young people. We need to educate some of them that Town Planners earn more money than Architects.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  That’s why you go to TAFE.
 
Nigel Rayner:  We’ve spoken about attraction.  Now everyone here is going to put their marketing caps on.  And it’s:  how are we actually going to market the things we have here to the outside world.So Amanda, over to you.  This is a question for you be cause you obviously deal with Greater Western Sydney. So, we’re up against Parramatta CBD, Macquarie Park etc.  How can we market our region, in The Hills, better do you think?  And what should we be marketing?  What does it look like?
 
Amanda Brisot:  So, you know that we’ve been working on the Western Sydney Visitor Strategy for a number of years now.  And the basic premise of that is that, rather than competing with each other, you collaborate and that there is strength in numbers.  And again, that’s really not  theory.  But it’s a lot more difficult to co-ordinate across the region. And from what we’ve sort of been working on, The Hills really is in pretty good shape in comparison to some of your competitors – because I think you can’t under-estimate the value of the visitor economy, as we call it, in attracting talent, attracting business investment, attracting residents, visitors,  everybody. And I think as far as that kind of fine grain good stuff, The Hills has that sort of stuff in its veins. The Rouse Hill Town Centre is just an amazing space.  But beyond that, I think that there is a lot happening in The Hills.  And actually right next door in the Hawkesbury, you’ve got the Hawkesbury Heart. You’ve got some amazing assets that really make it an attractive place to come and to visit. But I think what we’re lacking as a region is just that really co-ordinated approach to promoting what is good about Western Sydney and, in particular.And I think that there is a lot that needs to be overcome in order for us to get to a place where we have a really good co-ordinated approach to promoting what is good about the place. So, what we worked on in terms of our strategy – we looked at a few key areas and the Visitor Strategies were split into four key areas.  One was activating the local population.  So, in order to attract an investment in terms of a Visitor Economy investment – tourism investment – what you need is a pumping Visitor Economy.  And, for a Visitor Economy to be pumping, you need the locals to be engaging in it. I think you have that in The Hills more than you have it in a lot of other places across Western Sydney. So, my previous role was with the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, and we looked after Darling Harbour and The Rocks.  And, in Darling Harbour, after 36 million visits that happened there every year, 40 odd per cent of them came from Western Sydney which says to me that people leave the region to recreate.  So, how do you keep them here? And I guess I’m speaking, as I say, less about The Hills because people in The Hills tend to recreate a lot more in The Hills than perhaps someone from Liverpool or Blacktown chooses to. The second part of the Visitor Strategy was attracting day visitors.  So, how do you attract someone from say Randwick to come to Western Sydney?  And what we looked at there was this idea of developing trails and really capitalising on what is great about the place. So, particularly we started focussing on the one area – and The Hills was good in this space – that we looked at was Craft Beverage Producers.  There’s something like 19 of them. Nobody knows about them.  They’re not in any sort of co-ordinated trail.  So, it’s how do you sort of start to leverage those kinds of assets.  Artisanal producers, speciality grocers, all through sort of Liverpool and those sorts of areas. So, how do you start to co-ordinate those kinds of really great assets?  Elevate them, promote them, get people to understand that they’re there. And they’re a very authentic part of the fabric of Western Sydney.  So, we started looking at how we develop trails in and around some of those key assets. The other was attracting interstate and international visitation.  And what we’ve looked at there – and we’ve run a pilot campaign – is leveraging existing major events. So, the idea is the one we did was around the Longines Golden Slipper.  There was one week-end.  The Longines Golden Slipper, Essendon versus Giants at Homebush, and then Warriors versus Tigers out at Campbelltown.  So, we did this ultimate weekend because these people already have a reason to travel.  So, how do you really encourage them to come along?  Spend their time in Western Sydney rather than the City.  Give them stuff to do. So, we built in sort of the Taste Cultural Food Tours, we built in Featherdale, we built in all sorts of things to sort of make it a more attractive thing. And then, the final part was looking at how we can look at developing major events that really start to showcase what is great about Western Sydney. So, I think from a marketing perspective, collaboration and co-ordination is absolutely key. And obviously, you need to have your own personality as a Local Government area.  But you also need to think about how you fit within the region, and what’s your competitive advantage as a region but also as an individual LGA, and how do you work together?
 
Nigel Rayner:  And until we get that collaboration, what do you think should happen – because obviously you can’t collaborate by yourself.  You need the other parties.  What do you think, say, The Hills Shire Council could do or business at the moment could do until that happens?
 
Amanda Brisot:  I think from my perspective, The Hills Shire Council has actually been quite active in the space and has always engaged with us and has always engaged with other partners across the region in terms of those discussions. I think what’s missing at the moment really, to be honest, is the State Government input into that.
 
Joan Stone: Is one of the problems you see a lack of good food, and restaurants, cafés and stuff like that?
 
Amanda Brisot:  No.We’ve got that in spades.  But it’s just if you think about Cabramatta, you think about Harris Park, you think about Auburn – I mean the authentic food offering is really something that’s completely different to what’s available in the City and it’s really fabulous.
 
Joan Stone: Do they see The Hills as a food offering, or is it other locations?
 
Amanda Brisot:  I think The Hills is definitely seen as an emerging as a foodie destination in more of that sort of higher end sophisticated sort of palate space rather than that sort of authentic local cuisine space. If you go to some of those other LGAs that I’m talking about, what you’re getting is, you know, a hole in the wall – someone who comes from the place that’s making this really authentic incredible food that you just can’t get anywhere else and it’s as cheap as chips.
 
Tony Merhi:  We saw this gap in the market for foodies in The Hills  .  .  I recently  bought the Norwest Novotel, which has now been rebranded as  Rydges Norwest Sydney.  We engaged hospitality design consultants to come up with plans for a premium restaurtant, bar and conference facility for the medium term. We have also done a design competition in connection with our proposed long term redevelopment.  We’re actually looking at putting a Convention Centre on the site along with a new hotel and night clubs.  We’ve also included a public plaza  which is bigger than Martin Place.  So, we think it is of state significance.   We’re looking to pursue that through the State Government because, for many years, we’ve seen demand for  a proper Convention Centre in this area.  .
 
Nigel Rayner:  See, we’re marketers here.  We’re doing a good job of talking things down.  We’ve got to talk it up.  So, if our job here is to market The Hills to the wider community, what are some of the things we’re going to market?  What’s our tagline? So, do you think we could communicate that better?  Is that part of the marketing strategy?
 
Michael Edgar:  I think with a lot of what’s been talked about with the infrastructure is getting people out of the area.  But I think equally, it’s actually how do we get people back in?
 
Tony Merhi:  We’ve been building in this area for many years.  We’ve built the majority of apartments here.  In the past we’ve never been able to attract the right price because there’s limited public transport.  Transport was one of the biggest issues we were facing.  We pioneered apartments in the area.  But at the time people were saying:  Why would I want to move here?  There’s no public transport.
 
Amanda Brisot:  That's right.
 
Tony Merhi:  I think you’re going to see huge, huge growth in The Hills area, because that was the only thing that was lacking.
 
Amanda Brisot: That’s true.  That's right.
 
Michael Edgar:  Your competitive advantage in this Shire now is there’s plenty of land zoned for a housing and there’s plenty of land zoned for a business.  We enjoy a terrific lifestyle with areas of high amenity with incredible recreational assets on our doorstep. We’ve got incredible potential for investment right along that metro corridor.  I think it’s only the broader economic fundamentals that’s probably holding things  back right now.  I think with improving certainty of Government, improving access to finance and improving infrastrucure, the potential will be realised.
 
Andrew Frank:  We’re talking about marketing the area.  We must market the opportunities for employment, we must market business opportunities.  It’s great to have transport.  But if the transport is taking people 30 kilometres that way to our eastern seaport, that’s really unhelpful.  That’s actually not going to build a sustainable region. We actually have to have employment here.  We have to have business growth here.  We have to have all the other facilities that you’re talking about. So, this Metro has to be seen as a tool to bring people into the area, not talking in terms of taking people from the area.
 
Amanda Brisot:  That's right.
 
Andrew Frank:  And the rhetoric has to change,  not through Council, not through the State Government, but through business leaders and though business organisations.
 
Michael Edgar:  And even within our Shire – movement within our Shire.
 
Andrew Frank:  Yeah, absolutely.
 
Michael Edgar:  We can’t let our suburbs around these trains – in my view – just become dormitory suburbs that, once 9 o'clock comes, no one is there.  They’re gone.  We actually want people to have a reason to be in your town centres in the day, as well as night.
 
Tony Merhi:  If I can add to that, Michael. I actually lived in New York some years ago.  I can tell you that  crime in New York was solved as a result of mixed use development.  A lot of the crime happened even in Wall Street because, after 5:00PM, there was no-one there.
 
Angus Gordon:  See, this because the way that it was built is that we get very little incidence with crime because of the fact there’s resi above the Town Centre. 
 
Tony Merhi:  I think that the speed with which we can move from concept to shovels in the ground is also very important. Norwest is a great example where between Merc Capital and Mulpha we have  development proposed which will create thousands of jobs if it is carried out.  It’s just a matter of when can we start. 
 
Tim Spencer: It’s all about timing.  And business confidence will come when they understand timing.  So, I think The Hills Shire Council did really let out of the blocks well in 2013 when they stepped aside from the State Government and created their own corridor strategy.  Now, I thought that was a brilliant piece of Local Government leadership. Since then, they have dialled back from that position. All I’m encouraging you to do is:  step back into that leadership position, take the control. II know Tony and I have our own interests – but we will work within the boundaries that you set us.  All we’re asking is for you to set them.
 
Joan Stone:  Can I ask a dumb question?  What was the Strategy? 
 
Michael Edgar:  Well, what we did – at the time there was huge speculation around the rail stations, it became neceesaary for Council to give clarity.  What the Council did in 2015 was effectively say:  Well look, here’s broadly the future character and the growth around these stations over the next 30 years or so.
 
Joan Stone:  Right.
 
Michael Edgar: I think even with that strategy, Council has pushed forward with many changes to land use zones and some exceed that corridor strategy.  Just like business needs confidence, so do our political leaders.  I report to 13 Councillors and they need confidence in the outcome.   At some point the development and growth has to make sense and that it is going to be OK.  No one wants to see a deteriorating quality of life.  There are genuine concerns about how we are going to be able to move around and how does the intensification remain true to our garden shire. It’s about giving our political leaders – both Federally, State and just as importantly, our Local Councillors the confidence to keep making the decisions they’ve been making
 
Michael Edgar:  We receive plenty of mail expressing disatisfaction with council’s decsions and that it has not given enough in the rezoning but there’s literally thousands of people that live outside the rezoned areas that have got these same concerns that are shared by our Federal, State and Local politicians. We’ve got to – as leaders in our organisations and in the community, earn their trust.  Unless they’ve got confidence to back it in, it doesn’t happen.  So really, business needs confidence;  so do our political leaders.  When I first came to The Hills, it was at the time when the Rouse Hill Regional centre was at a very critical stage.  It was still a golf course.  And the planning for it was really a bit rough and bumpy without complete political support.  The NSW Government who owneed the site, Lend Lease/GPT the successful biddder worked really hard with Council to build trust.  Lend Lease in particular, created structures for the Council to engage and make decisions.  And their decisions were carried through to outcomes.  With that came a sense of ownership in the outcome – trust.  In the end, the project enjoyed widespread political support around that’s contributed to the success of today. 
 
Amanda Brisot:  That’s brilliant.
 
Michael Edgar:  And we’re there again now.  Those lessons need to be taken on board so that we build confidence and ownership and be genuine about it.
 
Nigel Rayner:  But is there a desire in the community, Michael, to grow The Hills?  Or, you know, are half of them still wanting it like the way it was?
 
Michael Edgar:  Yes, there is.  The Hills Shire has grown ever since its inception and has always accomodated Sydney’s growth.  It has done so in a way that’s maintained the area’s attractiveness and right now, there may well be just argument about how the next more intesive phase of growth happens in a way that enhances and not detracts from the area’s liveability and overall attraciveness. There are some good examples.  The Norwest Lake is an attractor of people. We are looking for more attractors, where is your really outstanding building?  Where is our outstanding building that contributes to public domain, to the point where people just want to be there. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  Can I add to that?  Do you think – touching on Amanda’;s comments as well – it’s the trust and collaboration from the outside world, it looks a little bit like we’ve got the different hubs.  We’ve got Castle Hill.  We’ve got Rouse Hill. And we’ve got Norwest.  And we’ve got the Metro.  We’ve got Council.  Everyone sort of seems, from the outside, to do it on their own.  Do you think we could collaborate better and have a more united front. What are your thoughts there?  What would you say, Amanda?
 
Amanda Brisot:  Absolutely.  There’s often a lot of scepticism about Councillors and political leaders.  But at the end of the day, I mean the point is governance – right?  That’s what it’s all about. And so, working with that system in a respectful way where there’s really good and authentic engagement, I think is brilliant.
 
Michael Edgar:  One of the strategic documents I’d encourage every business owner and every resident that’s concerned about our region – read our District Plan. Now, it’ll solve your insomnia, to a degree.  But it does guide the future and what we can expect.  Council is in the process of updateing its strategic response to that over the next coming months.  One of the key takeaways is that its just not up to Council to solve the problems and create the opportunity. It needs to be everybody.  Everybody’s got to chip in and make their contribution.
 
Nigel Rayner:  But does that mean that, again, it hasn’t been marketed?  It could be marketed better?  So everyone here, has everyone heard about the District Plan?
 
Dave Moreton:  The challenge is that the general resident hasn’t read that document.  How do you get that to them?  Because what they see is what they see on Facebook, which is developers doing all these highrise which, without a context, it looks horrendous. So, how do we get them to actually understand there’s a greater context?
 
Michael Edgar:  Absolutely that is a challenge.
 
Dave Moreton:  Well, maybe that’s where the community spaces come in.  We’ve got 12 million people every year. 
 
Michael Edgar: It is a challenge getting people to want to read and want to know about these plans.  It’s important for wider industry to understand our direction that in many ways, is imposed on us by other levels of government and policies.  So, it’s important to read it and get the narrative right.
 
Dave Moreton:  It’s very understanding from our point of view what’s important to them. I mean you would have thought lifestyle is number one because that’s why they move here in the first place.  Then, the Civic space that’s part of all these developments. Because similar stuff that all the developers are doing – there’s obviously a fair amount of building going on but the amount of Civic space that’s being provided back to the communities is phenomenal. It’s beautiful.  But, do they actually see that?  Are they seeing that? 
 
Michael Edgar:   I think that’s the challenge.
 
Tony Merhi:  Quickly, I wanted to touch on this Castle Grand building. 
 
Michael Edgar:  It’s a good case study reminder, Tony. 
 
Tony Merhi:  I remember when this building was proposed  there were public objections to 18 levels here. And finally, they dropped the height from 18 levels to 8.  Notwithstanding this  the apartments on the top level sold for about $1 million.  The ground floor apartments sold for about $450,000.  What I’m trying to say is thar if you look to the Castle Grand building you have a mixed use development  – not just apartments.  Following completion of the development there’s been no significant complaint about it .  I believe that if you had 18 levels here, you’d have had also the same outcome. So, I think that it is critical that we  look at what  the developer is proposing to provide in a particular  space and not to have preconceived ideas which stifle innovation.  What’s been provided here is excellent.
 
Michael Edgar:  I use it constantly in our council to remind us of where we come from because you’re absolutely right.  This building is mixed use.  It’s got our library and our community centre.  This has just been refitted as we’ve heard earlier before, at 2 million odd dollars.  But the development above us contributed to the funding of it.  At the time there was a huge debate about the height and it was over development and so on. It wouldn’t have taken five years since it was built where the was an acknowledgement that the height and scale could have been greater and that it would make sense in the fullness of time..
 
Tim Spencer:   There’s a huge risk of undercooking the opportunity off the back of the rail.  But, with Michael walking out, the last thing I’d leave is:  the most important thing that I think is that our planning should be going from the centre out.
 
Joan Stone:  We’ve also got to have something like an Entertainment Centre out here. 
 
Michael Edgar:  Sorry guys I’ve got to run.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Let’s have a break.  We want to say “thank you” to Michael and Amanda who’s also got to run off.  So thank you guys.
 
Michael Edgar:  I appreciate everything we have discussed today.  Lovely to see you all.
 
Joan Stone:  Michael, can I just ask you one thing? 
 
Michael Edgar:  Yes. 
 
Joan Stone:  I used to do architectural drafting in the 70s.  And I’d get a plan passed in three hours for an extension.  And I’d get a plan passed in one week for a whole house.  What’s happened?
 
Michael Edgar:  I’d need a lot of time to explain just how complex and how far removed we are from those days.  I think there needs to be change and there needs to be simpler pathways for people to get their approvals without over expense and delays. 
 
MORNING TEA BREAK
 
Nigel Rayner:  OK welcome vback. So, we want to touch on now, a bit of our Western Sydney International or Nancy Bird Walton as it’s been now named airport and the aerotropolis.  t’s obviously underway and it’s expected to be completed in 2026.  It’s just down the road at Badgerys Creek.  You know.  What do we think the implications are going to be for The Hills and what shall we be marketing or looking at there?  Has anyone thought that far ahead in their business and what the aerotropolis could do for their business?
 
Mina Karpouzas:  TAFE NSW is forming part of that project.  It is and does involve many key stakeholders.  From a TAFE NSW perspective it does mean we will have some presence but in what capacity its really early days. 
 
Tony Merhi:  Look, we have a number of projects in the area which will attract thousands of jobs.  Unfortunately, we have a complex planning system here which means that it takes far too long to get an approval. At the moment we’ve got projects with a value  in excess of $1.5 billion which we can execute today.  The issue at the moment for us is:  how long do we wait to start working on these projects. When I compare our planning systemwith places like New York you can clearly see where our systems fails us. In New York there are all sorts of incentives including expedited approvals processes and cheap loans in certain circumstances particularly where you’re providing something which is in desperate need. We don't have that in NSW.  We have a complex system and it’s very, very difficult and slow to get from A to Z.   I can tell you that 18 years ago we’d have had about five to eight cranes all over The Hills Shire.  We have few cranes today. We’ve got the funds.  We have the sites.  We have the development.  But we don't have the approvals. 
 
Andrew Frank:  So Tony, you’re saying it’s approvals and lack of Government incentives, approval delays and lack of Government incentives?
 
Tony Merhi:  Correct.  You need to have something to attract people to the area.  Otherwise, on the week-end, Friday night people go to the City.  What can they do here?  Not much. So, we need to create an environment that brings people here.  But we can’t forget that the Government’s given us $9 billion worth of station/metro. 
Andrew Frank:  Who’s going to occupy those buildings?
 
Tony Merhi:  That’s a good question.  If you looked at what we’re doing with the Rydges – our future projects – we’ve got night clubs, we’ve got a new hotel, we’ve got a convention centre, we’ve got a plaza bigger than Martin Place – right?  And we would attract a lot of people outside The Hills area to this area.
 
Andrew Frank:  You’re talking about a critical mass, aren’t you?  I mean there are restaurants and there are some entertainment spaces.  But it’s a critical mass that you’re concerned about?
 
Tony Merhi:  Correct.  You need to have something to attract people to the area.  Otherwise, on the week-end, Friday night people go to the City.  What can they do here?  Not much. So, we need to create an environment that brings people here.  But we can’t forget that the Government’s given us $9 billion worth of station/metro. 
 
Darryl McAllister:  Nigel? Your question was about Western Sydney Airport and the opportunity.  So, in the newspaper the version of Western Syxney Business Access, I think it was the December edition or the January edition, there was a focus out there. 
 
Michael Walls:  Yep.
 
Darryl McAllister:  And I got really excited when I read that article because it talked l about high tech stuff. I’ve forgotten all the fancy phrasing, but it was going to be a high tech, you know, medical and all the construction aerospace. So, that excited me because I’ve had my businesses in Western Sydney for 30 years involved with IT.  And so I’ve just naturally had customers all around Western Sydney. And so, the opportunity for us will be not basing ourselves there, but providing IT services to businesses that either base themselves there or are doing building work, or engineering work, architectural work for the infrastructure that will be going in there. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  Do you see it as a game changes to maybe do work elsewhere?  Has anyone else thought of that? It’s probably 30 minutes down the road that you can be on a plane and do work at other locations.  Has that sort of come into play for anybody?
 
Darryl McAllister:  So, I haven’t thought much about that myself.  It will all depend on the airlines. I’ve got 10 staff in The Philippines and I went to the The Philippines last week. It took me less than 60 minutes door to door from my home in Castle Hill to get to Kingsford Smith. I was talking to my wife saying – you know – I went through, checked my bags in – within an hour I was sitting in the Qantas Club from my home in Castle Hill.  So, I don't know if it’s going to be a lot shorter really going, you know - either way of going, I’m going to pay a whole lot of tolls.  But, you know, the tax man pays for that.

Michael Walls:  There’s so much about the airport that we don’t know about yet, because it’s such a big project and it cuts across so many different industries and Councils and stakeholders. And I don't think anyone’s really got their heads around who’s going to benefit and why in total.
 
Tim Spencer:  I think, without a doubt though, it’ll extend our global reach.  And whether that’s physically, getting in and out of Sydney and around the world, or through the cutting edge businesses that will locate themselves in close proximity to the airport.  I just think Norwest and The Hills in general just has an incredible opportunity to create an authentic village in close proximity to some real massive power players – so, Western Sydney Airport, Parramatta and the CBD.We’re actually in the middle.
 
Alex Thorp:  I think it’ll naturally come, as long as we get our local bit sorted first.  If we don’t get the local bit sorted first, it’s not going to come from the airport.
 
Tim Spencer:  We do have major competitors.
 
Amanda Brisot:   And it might actually do the other thing as well.  You might see a lot of organisations, you know, setting up head office in Norwest. 
 
Michael Walls:  Don’t you have that now?
 
Amanda Brisot:  And maybe that’s what we should be doing now – is getting in there early.
 
Tim Spencer:  I’ll be completely honest.  We got it wrong.  We built our buildings right onto it.  There’s a very limited public space around it. 
 
Michael Walls:  So, is Norwest competing with the airport in terms of attracting corporates, big corporates, big tenants?
 
Tim Spencer:  No.  I think our opportunity is to get there first.  So, the airport’s not going to be there until 2027.  It’s a massive play.  We do have a window now to actually set ourselves up and deliver that village amenity that they’ll take a lot of time to get to.  I think Norwest really needs to be Norwest City, a mixed use proposition. We have, against our competitors across Sydney, the best thing that we’ve ever done is let anyone who’s anyone into the Park. The Hills has everything in terms of services, skill sets, businesses.  We’ve got a great mix of businesses, which enables you to actually service your local community.  So, The Hills can be a true 15 to 20 minute community that you don't need to leave.So, I look at that opportunity versus the aerotropolis.  And I go:  Well, why would I want my business to be at the aerotropolis?  Unless I’m actually a servicing and logistic proposition. There’s no real mixed use livability element out there for me.  They might get it.  But it won’t be in 10 years – right?  It will be beyond that. My biggest fear in regards to The Hills is that we’ve got our infrastructure.  We haven’t got our planning.  It should have been done three years ago to allow private investment to be already truly funnelling in.  But my biggest fear is that we will lose out to Sydney Olympic Park, we will lose out to some of the more progressive LGAs down South.
 
Michael Walls:  Parramatta?
 
Tim Spencer:  Parramatta I put in the same bucket as the aerotropolis.  Like, Parramatta is a massive steroid injection for Norwest, I believe.Why would you want to live in Parramatta when you can live in Norwest?  And should we have had the Norwest rail connection first, or the North/South connection? 
 
Tony Merhi:  We have some of the best blue chip companies in NSW.  I think we can attract a lot more because of the two new stations that we have.  However that opportunity is going to be limited by the slow pace of planning approvals. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  Should we be doing that on TV?  What sort of mediums do you think we should be marketing it through?
 
Tim Spencer:  Getting to your point though, Nigel, is how do we market it – right?
 
Nigel Rayner:  Yeah.
 
Tim Spencer:  But I think Michael put it out there that there is a District Plan – right – which is setting an aspirational vision for the LGA.  I think we need to grap hold of that.  And Michael laughs about it but it is one of our biggest planning system failures – is that engagement of the general community into the planning system and those plans.
 
Dave Moreton:  It’s an aligned approach not just for Council. It is the developers and all those stakeholders singing from exactly the same hymn book.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  And social media is huge.  I mean Facebook itself. .
 
Nigel Rayner:  Do you think the Council – I know they do a lot on the social media side of Facebook and LinkedIn. Are they doing enough to talk about what’s offered in The Hills?
 
Mina Karpouzas:  I would say that we need a lot more targeted approach.
 
Dave Moreton:  It’s got to get the key messages right, though.  So, there’s obviously lots of messages out there.  So, out of that document what are the key messages that are aligned to all the people around the table that we want the general resident of The Hills to understand?
 
Tony Merhi:  I think The Hills Shire Council has done a great job in promoting The Hills, promoting Norwest.  And you can see clearly how many blue chip companies are there.  And I keep saying that.
 
Tim Spencer:  But that’s where I think the vision document is helping the Councillors get confidence in the direction that they’re going.  You’ve got to start somewhere. And, you know, I think once you’ve got a Vision document, then you can understand what the main drivers are.  Then it’s a very natural question when you read a driver.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  I mean there’s different messages that you need to target. You have the one where you have the short stays or over nights and then the other piece is the mums and dads coming to live and and work.  The mums and dads are really interested about schooling and having the quality of life here where they have everything at their disposal.  And Im pleased to say we have some great schools for their selection.
 
Nigel Rayner:  If everyone worked together, all collaborated and saying:  These are all the reasons why – rather than sort of GPT doing their thing and Mulpha doing theirs – if we all sort of came together for the collective good because we all benefit off it, would that be a good thing?
Simon File:  I mean, you sure as hell – when was this last one?  December 2016?
 
Nigel Rayner:  Mmmm.
 
Simon File:  You don't want to wait another three years.
 
Nigel Rayner:  No. 
 
Mina Karpouzas:  No. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  As I said, I think we’ve got five years to get this right.
 
Joan Stone:  We’ve also got to build a gigantic Entertainment Centre with good things happening.  Just recently, I took staff up to Bimbadgen and we saw Kylie Minogue.  Well, why wasn’t she here in Castle Hill?  We could have had it here.
 
Dave Moreton:  I guess the question though, is that entertainment place, is that in the plan?  Is that in the big plan the big man here was talking about?
 
Tony Merhi:  I can tell you what is really missing  not just in The Hills area but throughout Sydney is support for development.  The problem  we as developers face is that we have objections often from people who fear traffic congestion.  But we don't have people actively supporting good proposals. People only ever speak up when they object to something..
 
Tim Spencer:  But that’s where you can’t force change. 
 
Tony Merhi:  And this is the problem.  How many leaders at the moment see a project and write to Council:  We support this project.  This doesn’t happen.  It’s a big problem.
 
Joan Stone:  But we could have the amworth Concert here –Richmond, Windsor, along the main street.  A bit of an old fashioned street.  We could do that.  Hornsby RSL - hey have magnificent people there.  They’ve got a Beatles Concert soon.  They’ve just had the ABBA ,680 people.  And then, they had an Elvis Presley one.  I mean we have the Elvis Presley out at Parkes, and no-one can get accommodation.  So, why don’t we have it here? 
 
Tim Spencer:  We do have some great events in The Hills.  And I think The Hills and the different Chambers around the place do an incredibly good job at specific targeted events and propositions.  What we’re missing is the umbrella, which is the Vision.
 
Dave Moreton:  It’s all very tactical, isn’t it?  It’s all very tactical.
 
Tim Spencer:  It’s all tactical.  And all of that is going really well.  Like, they do a great Country Music event at The Farm at the Bella Vista Farm, right?  And that gets huge numbers of people .But I think, to get people on the journey – rather than just being objectors, but being supporters it has to be a visionary approach.
 
Dave Moreton:  And then, consulted with and they need to be consulted - . feeding in and so they feel as though they’re part of it.
 
Nigel Rayner:  We’re just going to go around the table to just say two or three things that you think are the key attractors that we need to market outside The Hills to get people here.  What would you say?
 
Alex Thorp:  I just think we hacve an environment it’s very attractive, because you’ve got Rural at one end, you’ve got High Density at the other – and everything in between.  Fantastic sporting facilities.  And in the other parts of Sydney, I mean you can’t get sporting fields now.  I mean they’re just, you know, at a premium everywhere.  And a couple of great pubs. 
 
Tim Spencer:  We don’t want any more.
 
Simon File:  Look, I think we’ve got a lot of the facilities we need.  The next sort of stage is really critical to me – geting those Town Centres happening.  Like, stop talking.  Let’s just get on with getting them.  I think we’ve spoken a bit about that. Just rolling them out and trying to get more people to the area. I mean, you think about Rouse Hill.  That’s a great, a fantastic facility that’s down there.  Let’s promote that more and let’s get the next stage of that going.  And I think get those things underway.  And, you know, I think that will all sort itself out.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Yep.  Sam?
 
Sam McCarthy:  Community & lifestyle. You need to clearly communicate what is unique about the community and the lifestyle it has to offer across The Hills. From a business perspective, Norwest has so many professional services and expertise in building a new business community.  I think there’s a real opportunity with the aerotropolis to help consult on building that community from within the Hills professional services community.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Excellent.  Joan, what would you say?
 
Joan Stone:  Yes.  In our after school care centres what we do is promote – yearly, we have a cruise given to a family.  And that’s in a lot, like a draw.  And then, not only that.  We pick out people who we think could really benefit from it like a family that’s in trouble or something like that.  But every term we have a prize for the children who bring the most informative things that they did on the week-end.  So, we try to promote because, if Mum and Dad work five days a week, and then Saturday is probably shopping, getting food ready, all the rest of it and we always say Sunday is family day.  So, we give out a prize in every centre for the best things that the families did with their children.  And then we try to promote things advertised to the centres – what’s going on that week.  Like, for instance, Wisemans Ferry.  I don't know whether you’ve ever been out there to their Colonial Week-end.  It’s just amazing.  All the locals get dressed up in there.  They have a bakery like doing damper.  They have another one where they’re making horse shoes.  And children think:  Oh wow. It’s so good. 
 
Nigel Rayner:  Darryl, what would you say your points would be?
 
Darryl McAllister:  I think as of next Sunday (day the Metro NBorth West opens) we’ll be well connected.  And I think that’s a really exciting opportunity for businesses based in the Norwest Business Park.  It energises me again for my business.  There’s quite a few tech based organisations – competitors, essentially, of mine – in Norwest and Castle Hill already.  And I think that’s healthy, and I’d like to see more. I think having ways for people to come in to the Business Park from further afield via the Metro is going to be great.
 
Nigel Rayner:   Excellent.  Tim?
 
Tim Spencer:  Attributes that I think The Hills has that we can really get out there:  I think our education – if you drill down into what our LGA has in terms of education, it’s really strong.  I think housing diversity is strong in The Hills.  I think that’s a massive plus for us.  I think we have excellent job opportunities and investment opportunities.  I think Norwest is an incredible location in terms of Sydney. I was only allowed 3, but I’m going to add one  more . The fourth one that I think is meant to be The Hills-wide – not just Norwest Business Park – but I’ll always bring it back to Norwest Business Park.  But I actually think Norwest Business Park is a real opportunity for Sydney in regards to rolling out a local village that has serious urban density. I see Norwest as a bit of an opportunity to experiment a little bit because you’re not going to get it right. 
 
Simon File:  I mean it already was a model experiment 20 years ago.  You know.  I think it just needs to go to the next stage. 
 
Tim Spencer:  Exactly.  So I think it can be a little bit of a test bed.  And so, giving Councillors the confidence to say:  Look, just go for it, a little – and see the outcome  And I think that’s my thought because that – the first 3 I think are fundamentals – the fourth is actually an entrepreneurial business mindset that will give businesses aspirational thought process and bring them to town – because they want to be like-minded people or growing.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Excellent.  I’ll just get Tony to jump in.  He’s got to fly.

Tony Merhi:  Look, I’d like to see Norwest as a catalyst for The Hills area.  I’d like to see mixed use development in particular.  I think there should be incentives to any developer that could come up with an attractive scheme that will create employment and draw people to The Hills to live, work and be entertained. Naturally I think our proposal for the Rydges Hotel site does just that.  And I think Norwest has huge potential for growtWe need to do everything we can to try and push that.  Height should not be an issue when considering proposed development.  Height is always earnt by merit.  If I have a 30 or 40 level development which is attractive, viable and provides public benefits such as increase employment opportunities and public open space then height shouldn’t be an issue unless you’ve got either shadowing or some other material  problem for others.  If you have no issue, you’ve earnt that height – whether it’s 30 storeys or 50 storeys.
 
Tim Spencer:  And that’s where Norwest does provide an opportunity because you’re not impacting already established surroundings. 
 
Dave Moerton:  I think from my point of view it’s really the role we play about sharing this Vision that’s going to make it easier for Councillors to get aligned to some of the future developments that are happening around the area because, unless we’re able to get context out to residents, they’re always going to be freaked out by higher density developments because they’re not going to understand the amenity that we’re providing onsite and the public space we’re providing onsite.  And without that context, it’s always going to be an issue.
 
Michael Walls:  From a communications point of view, it’s important to get the context right in terms of behaviour, the actions. This information makes a difference to how you frame the communication and the messaging.  Most people are not thinking like you, with all due respect. The commubnity is thinking of what it means to them.
 
Mina Karpouzas:  Correct.
 
Dave Moreton:  And the way Tony is talking, again, it’s very impressive to hear that from a developer point of view.  But if I had a 750 square metre house or lot in Castle Hill or Norwest, I’d be saying:  I’m moving – because that’s not what I signed up to when I moved to the area. 
 
Tim Spencer:  That’s exactly right.
 
Dave Moreton:  That’s right.  That’s why we need to flip it – and then it becomes a really powerful story.
 
Mina Karpouzas: I would definitely say, the rail.  But second to that, I would say communication.  I mean if we’re talking about Mums and Dads, they want to know what services are here, schools and that comes back to what’s in it for them.  I mean, you know:  yes, they love the area.  You know.  Norwest.  How many industries are in the Norwest Business Precinct?  And I guess, just really encapsulating that whole service element quite broadly, you’ve got TAFE, you’ve got a new hospital in Rouse Hill coming on, you’ve got the private specialised hospital’s just down the corridor.
 
Nigel Rayner:  Excellent.  Well, thank you everyone, we’ll wrap it up now..  I want to wrap it up now.  Thankyou to Access News Australia, Michael and also The Hills Shire Council, for putting this together. Thank you all.


editor

Publisher and editor, Michael Walls.
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Western Sydney Business Access (WSBA) covers the business and community issues of the Greater Western Sydney region of Australia. WSBA is the popular media source for connecting with the pulse of the region and tapping into it's vast opportunities and networks.