Kevin Abey

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When people ask Armidale Dumaresq’s Economic Development Manager Kevin Abey why he moved to Armidale, his usual answer is: “Quality of Life”. He explains why Armidale has been very successful with its Country Week promotions.

>What is Armidale Dumaresq Council doing for Country Week?

Armidale has had a very strong presence at Country Week for the last five years, taking about 3-4 exhibition spaces to showcase what we have to offer. This includes our strong education sector, real estate, jobs and enviable lifestyle. The unique aspect of the Armidale presence at Country Week is the participation by the community. In addition to myself representing Council and economic development, we have the three private schools, Mary Wright (NEGS), Sue Watson (PLC) and Pip Warrick (TAS). From the professional services sector, we have Annie McNeilly (Forsyths), Geoff Solomon (Roberts & Morrow) and representatives from the UNE. Promoting Armidale’s real estate, this year, we have Peter Georkas representing Hutchinson & Harlow R/E. And, to assist potential tree changers in the area of employment, we have Joan Dunn representing Jobs Australia.

For the last few years, we have also had Stuart George from Petersons’ Winery come along as well.  Stuart adds that something special to our exhibit by allowing Country Week visitors the opportunity to sample some of our great wine. Stuart and his wife Katrina (and their growing family) are tree changers themselves. In fact, many of us are tree changers, so we get to tell our tree change story to people.

I’ve now met hundreds of people who are looking for a location which provides the benefits of metropolitan living but without the hassles. People are saying that they have had enough with the rat race of city living and they just want more quality time with family, lower mortgages and a shorter commute to and from work – it’s all about quality of life, and Armidale offers all this and more.

> What is the focus for Country Week this year?

The first day of Country Week will focus on careers, to demonstrate that tree changers can develop their careers in a regional centre. Armidale has a particular strength in the education sector. Education employs just over 20% of our working population, so we need to develop as many opportunities in this area as possible. With the UNE, TAFE, fine private and public schools and other educational institutions, we are positioned quite well to maximise the opportunities from Country Week.

Quite interestingly, one of our other strengths in terms of occupation is the professionals sector. If you compare Armidale with the larger inland cities in NSW, it employs a higher percentage of professionals than any other inland city. Again, it is the education and lifestyle opportunities that attract them to the city.

> How can the local community help to promote Armidale?

I would encourage Focus readers to contact their friends and family who live in Sydney to pop in and see us at Rosehill Racecourse from Friday to Sunday, 8th – 10th August 2008. Give them a call and tell them to visit our exhibition. If they don’t know already, they’ll be pleasantly surprised with what we have to offer.

Perhaps readers would like to invite friends and family to some of the events we have here. I’d suggest coming to Armidale on the weekend of the 19th – 21st September this year so that they can visit the Sustainable Living Expo (SLEX) Live.Garden.Farm event. They’ll experience the sense of community and how Armidale is progressing towards a sustainable future, which is all about quality of life.

> What results have been achieved through Country Week promotions in previous years?

Armidale has been very successful with its Country Week promotions, and the representatives on our stand always come back with many enquiries to follow up. I believe that eleven families moved to Armidale last year as a result of attending the Country Week promotion in Sydney. It is important to realise however, that the decision making process can take some time. I know that some families have visited us at Country Week maybe twice or even three times, and that’s okay, because it is an important decision to make. What we need to do is to continue to provide information to visitors that help them to make the right decision. I believe that Will and Anna Caldwell, both teachers in Armidale, visited Country Week twice before making their decision to come here.

> What do you see as your role as Economic Development Manager for ADC?

My role as Economic Development Manager with Armidale Dumaresq Council is quite diverse.  Essentially it is to develop economic wealth for the benefit of Armidale residents. My role is primarily project based, where I develop, implement and manage a range of projects that lead to job growth, increased investment and wealth for Armidale. An example was facilitating the process to allow a development application to be lodged for the new Armidale Homemakers Centre bulky goods development. It is worth approximately $6 million, will result in up to 100 new jobs and reduce the high level of escape expenditure from Armidale to other regional centres.

The economic development unit has spent quite some time developing a range of marketing material targeted at promoting Armidale business and lifestyle. This material will be used at Country Week and will be officially launched later in August.  Research has shown that the primary source of information for business and potential tree changers is the Internet.

We are currently redeveloping our economic development website as a marketing tool for Armidale. The website will provide economic data for potential investors, information to assist businesses including start-ups, an Armidale business database and information to promote industry and lifestyle.

Following the approval of its Local Environmental Plan (LEP) in early 2008, Armidale is poised for new residential, rural residential and industrial development. Council has initiated a bulky goods retail and industrial land study. Subject to the outcome of this study, I will be responsible for an industrial land project near Armidale Airport. Council currently owns over 50 hectares of industrial land on the southern side of Armidale Airport.

We will be looking at how we can develop this land to meet the needs of new and existing industry. This will be a significant project for economic development and will provide much needed industrial land for Armidale.

Another project which Economic Development is responsible for is the Sustainable Living Expo, which is now in its second year and is progressing well as a flagship event for Armidale. SLEX includes a number of existing and new events. The Sustainable Living Tour is on 13-14 and 20-22 September, and the main event will be Live.Garden.Farm at the Armidale Showground from September 19-21.

Armidale was recently rated as one of just 20 water-rich locations across Australia, and we are well placed to enjoy further population growth due to the abundance of this valuable resource. As a targeted destination for the new ‘Oasis Changers’ and for our current residents, SLEX will play an important role in continuing to promote sustainable living practices in our region. We have been quite successful in securing national media exposure, and this really helps us in promoting Armidale. Obviously, SLEX also has a role in promoting sustainability to businesses. Climate change is a fact of life, and SLEX will help the business community to meet this challenge through the development of a sustainability plan for Armidale and through the promotion of simple but effective sustainable business practices.

> When did you come to Armidale and why?

My wife Norma, children Andrea and Harrison and I came to Armidale in April 2001. Norma grew up in Armidale and moved to Sydney, where we met and married in 1990. We settled in Camden, south of Sydney and both developed successful careers, with Norma in real estate and me in telecommunications. As a National Account Manager for a major telecommunications company, I managed a number of high-value national and international clients from an office in the Sydney CBD. The role required a lot of travel and long hours every day. We both earned great incomes and we had a rather comfortable life, but Norma wanted to raise the children in Armidale. She had fond memories of growing up in Armidale, and she knew that we would have a better lifestyle, more time with the children and be able to educate them in some of the best schools in Australia.

Norma started a new job straight away, but I commuted between Armidale and Sydney for six months until I secured a role with Uralla Shire Council as an Economic Development Officer. The Armidale region provides many opportunities for potential tree changers, and I always encourage people to look at how they can transfer their work related skills to new industries rather than focus on one industry. This is what Norma and I did. Today, Norma is the Relationship Manager at the University of New England and I am now with Armidale Dumaresq Council.

Since we moved in 2001, my parents, Walter and Arlin have retired from Sydney to Armidale, my sister Sharon has recently moved here, where she works from home as an Operations Manager for a company in Sydney. Norma’s parents, Peter and Fifi, brothers Richard and George and sister Mary are here in Armidale as well.

When people ask me why we moved to Armidale, I usually answer: “Quality of Life”. Yes, we still work hard, but we have the time to enjoy our life, travel, participate in theatre and other cultural activities, our kids have so many opportunities at PLC Armidale and at The Armidale School and I am also studying for my MBA at UNE. Life is good in Armidale!

> Thank you Kevin.

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