Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Opinion: Damage done when industry departs

News journalist JARROD WHITTAKER has covered the issues surrounding SPC Ardmona for more than a year. Growing up in the Latrobe Valley, where a major employer left town and decimated the local economy, he shares his opinion on concerns surrounding the fruit processor's industry.

JARROD WHITTAKER June 12, 2014 12:15pm

For the past year, News journalist JARROD WHITTAKER has covered the issues affecting the viability of fruit processor SPC Ardmona. For months he has been speaking to the growers, the managers and the punters who were furiously chucking tins in their trolleys. After Tuesday night’s decision to keep Andrew Fairley Ave open, he felt the time was right to share his opinion on the matter.

The top story when I landed in Shepparton two years ago was the number of empty shops.

Everyone was talking about what could be done to address the fact Shepparton had 140 vacant shops.

Federal Liberal frontbencher Andrew Robb even weighed in on social media.

When I arrived I would wander across town wondering what the fuss was.

There were empty shops, but Shepparton seemed like a vibrant regional centre.

It was a world away from the Latrobe Valley, where I grew up. There, the difficult part was finding a shop that was not vacant.

I make this comparison for a reason.

The Latrobe Valley lost about 5500 jobs when its major employer — Victoria’s power stations — were privatised in the 1990s. Shepparton is a region where one of its major employers — SPC Ardmona — is struggling to survive.

Essential Economics’ report into the impact of SPC Ardmona withdrawing from Greater Shepparton highlighted the stakes.

If found 2050 jobs would be lost and $165million sucked out of the region’s economy each year.

Admittedly, the Latrobe and Shepparton numbers are different.

But let me tell you about the impact of thousands of job losses on a region.

It guts a community — and the impact is felt at every level of life.

Those who have the means leave, unemployment shoots up and businesses shut their doors as their customer base evaporates. Property prices tumble.

Some — my family included — sell the family home to deal with the loss of livelihood.

Understandably, when I started covering SPC Ardmona’s problems a year ago, I was concerned.

I understood the end game.

The most rewarding day of my career was the day Victorian Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, SPC Ardmona managing director Peter Kelly and Victorian Premier Denis Napthine announced the $100million investment package.

Likewise, I couldn’t understand the scenes that played out at Greater Shepparton City Council’s meeting on Tuesday.

Shepparton had $100million on the table to lock in those 2050 jobs for five years, to safeguard the $165million SPC Ardmona generates for the local economy. Instead, it opted for a 250m stretch of road.

There would be no hesitation among people in the Latrobe Valley if they could have the families, the jobs and the community back in exchange for a strip of road.

At this stage there’s no knowing if this nightmare scenario will play out. But at a cost of $100million, the Shepparton community this week became the owner of the most expensive 250m stretch of road in Australia.

Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be the most costly.

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