SPC Ardmona lifeline to “save” and “improve” surrounding local small businesses

The Victorian government’s $22 million co-investment in SPC Ardmona will “save” and even “improve” small and medium-sized businesses in the area, according to Shepparton Mayor Jenny Houlihan.

Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, Houlihan said “happy” was not enough to describe the emotions she was currently feeling.

“It’s such a wonderful and historic moment for us here in greater Shepparton,” she says. “I think the town has a different buzz about it today. People are very, very relieved.”

Shepparton’s second-largest employer was thrown a lifeline yesterday afternoon when the Victorian government announced it would invest $22 million in the company over three years.

Under the agreement, the cannery’s parent company, Coca-Cola Amatil, will invest an additional $78 million and must repay the government’s investment if it ceases operating in the next five years. The fruit processing company must also have a minimum of 500 full-time staff.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said the state government had delivered security for the plant’s workers.

“This is the first stage of the growth and development for a company that has got a proud history,” he said. “We as a government are happy to partner with you as we grow opportunities through SPC Ardmona and the magnificent Shepparton Goulburn-Valley region.”

Shepparton Mayor Houlihan says SPC Ardmona is an integral part of the local economy and won’t be the only one to benefit from this decision. It is estimated that over 2500 jobs are reliant on SPC Ardmona’s operations in the Goulburn Valley.

“Small businesses will now be assured that the business they were receiving from SPC will not only remain but improve,” Houlihan says. “We do believe that when SCP is refitted with modern technology it will be a state-of-the-art factory that will produce different products and require more fruit.”

The Victorian government is participating in the investment on the condition that certain investment milestones will be met, such as streamlining material flows and improving efficiency.

SPC Ardmona managing director Peter Kelly said in a statement that he was delighted with the support for his business.

“This $100 million capital investment package, while not the amount we originally planned, is significant and will be immediately put to work by our business to drive new product and packaging innovation and efficiency measures.”

Houlihan says the council recently commissioned a report into the effects on the local unemployment rate should SPC Ardmona cease its operations. It found the unemployment rate would jump from 7.5% to 10%.

“Clearly that is not going to happen now,” she says. “It’s wonderful that we don’t have to worry about that extra constrain on our community.”

Shepparton’s unemployment rate is already slightly higher than the national average, which is sitting around 6% for the first time in a decade. The last time unemployment figures were this high was in July 2003.

“What we need to do now is really work hard on trying to get the rest of that number down,” says Houlihan.

SPC Ardmona is the last major fruit and vegetable processor in Australia.

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