REVIVING regional centres in the western part of the Northern Rivers would unlock economic prosperity for the entire region, a local business leader says.
Regional manager of the Northern Rivers NSW Business Chamber, Jane Laverty, said that latest Census employment figures released this week signalled a shift towards reigniting the region's "commercial hubs" Lismore, Grafton and Casino.
She pointed to Casino, the regional centre of the Richmond Valley, as the start of that shift.
The latest Census data makes that difficult to envision with the Richmond Valley Council area's 7.7% unemployment rate and blue-collar workers accounting for a fifth of its workforce.
But Mrs Laverty said the potential of two innovative businesses slated for development in the beef capital could unlock a surge in job growth and new industries across the valley.
"I think we will see a resurgence of the regional cities of old. (The Census data) demonstrates that we need to push that way," Mrs Laverty said.
"We are excited when we have those sorts of announcements because when you look at these figures you can see that we are in desperate need for jobs as you move further out from the coast.
"If we get those investments discussed such as the biohub and the medicinal cannabis facility that's going to have a great impact on shifting these numbers."
Regional Development Australia Northern Rivers chief executive Alex Smith shared Mrs Laverty's vision but said enablers, such as upgraded roads and infrastructure, need to be implemented to ensure the western centres could thrive.
The divide between unemployment on the coast remains wide with the Kyogle council area sitting at 8.7% compared to its coastal neighbour Ballina Shire at 5.9% - the lowest out of the Byron (6.5%), Lismore (7.8%), Richmond Valley (7.7%), and Kyogle council areas.
As many around the region struggle to find work, those who do have work may not be getting sustainable hours, Mrs Laverty and Mr Smith said, with under-employment a big issue facing the Northern Rivers workforce.
Attracting new industries like the biohub at Casino and the medicinal cannabis facility could create "a multiplier affect" to draw businesses, locally and from other regions, to establish in the area to help bring down under-employment.
"If we can create diversity of jobs we start to solve a lot other problems we have in regional communities," Mrs Laverty said.
Richmond Valley general manager, Vaughan MacDonald, said about 400 new jobs would be created through the two development projects. He predicted at least another 100 could be made available by potential new business coming to the valley because of the new industries.
He said the benefit of new business may flow onto existing businesses, enabling them to expand.
Prioritising the needs to strengthen the Northern Rivers region would be discussed next week at a summit of about 40 North Coast business leaders, council staff and economic consultants.
Mr Smith said the goal of the summit would be listing business and economic priorities for the Northern Rivers to guide its growth into the future and to help secure a significant share of state and federal funding pools to strengthen regional economies.
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