OVING ON: Outgoing Mildura Regional Development CEO, Daryl Buckingham, shares his final moments on the job in Mildura with his dog, Lilly. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By VINNIE RODI

OUTGOING Mildura Regional Development (MRD) CEO, Daryl Buckingham, has urged his successor to continue to have an open mind when it comes to the region’s future.

“We know this works – we have a model that works,” the 55-year-old said this week. “What MRD has achieved in recent times has been done on a dime, and we know that we don’t need millions of dollars to achieve outcomes for this community.

“My advice would be to have an open mind, don’t be afraid to fail, and remember it’s the little stuff that matters – economic development starts at the bottom and goes up, not the other way around.”

Today marks Mr Buckingham’s final day as MRD CEO after two years in the role. He leaves the district to take on a position as CEO of the Flinders Shire Council near Townsville, Queensland.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make (to leave) – I’ve actually been in discussions with Flinders since before Christmas, and I had to do a fair bit of soul searching,” he said. “I love this job, and I love my team (at MRD) – I have the best team pound for pound.”

Mr Buckingham said ultimately his new role was in line with his career aspirations, and it was a job that was simply too good to turn down.

“Flinders Shire, while a very small community, has ambition, and they’ve agreed to my version of Local Government and economic development,” he said. “I had the same discussion with the MRD Board in the early days as I’ve had with Flinders Shire – I said back then that my approach to economic development is totally different.

“I’m very place-based, so it’s about looking at assets locally, and developing them, rather than focusing on the ‘blue sky’ stuff where we spend a lot of money writing reports and getting consultants in to write expensive documents that sit on shelves, collect dust and don’t really achieve anything.

“My approach is very tech-based, so it’s about understanding digital transition in terms of the new economy, the new world order, and how that affects education, business, productivity, and industry and investment attraction, and then ultimately partnerships.”

Mr Buckingham said that these views and approach took the community and stakeholders time to adjust when he was first appointed as MRD CEO.

“They were totally different to what Mildura Council was used to at the time, and was certainly different to what the community was used to,” he said. “In the early days when I started talking about robotics, the Internet of Things and precision horticulture, people’s eyes rolled back into their heads, and I’m sure they thought I was a crackpot!

“But in a short time we demonstrated that the methodology and model was right, and we got some quick runs on the board, particularly in terms of investment partnerships and collaborations.

Recalling the first
 six months

“The first six months was spent meeting the leaders of various organisations…. getting an understanding of the economy, the community, their aspirations, and then going away and working out how we plug all that into a place-based economical development strategy.

“As an organisation we wanted MRD to be trusted as a partner, and our strengths have been the ability to plug people in – so if someone has a project, we can generally make a phone call and get them on to someone who can help.”

Mr Buckingham boasts a diverse background, having worked in more than 20 different industries across the breadth and length of Australia, and even overseas. 

MRD, under Mr Buckingham’s leadership, has been at the forefront of a number of exciting projects in the solar and agri-tech space. The group has also led the charge behind the Silo Remembrance Art Trail.

“All these projects haven’t been delivered by me, they’ve been delivered by my team, all I’ve done is put in place the right environment,” he said.

Mr Buckingham, however, said that there were three projects that “stand out” throughout his time.

“The Smart Farm (at Sunraysia Institute of TAFE) is probably the one that I’m really in love with,” he said. “It brings together a few of my loves – education, agri-tech, and really if you want to have generational change, you have to start with education – that’s the equaliser.

“The Smart Farm happened so quickly… and we have people knocking on the door now. In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a Queensland-based agri-robotics company, who are doing some amazing work… who want to come and operate here.

“The Silo Art trail is also getting to the pointy end now, we have our first site (as reported in the Mildura Weekly on Friday, March 8), our artist is secured, and we have a start date in May this year. I’m proud of that project – it’s a personal and emotional one for me.”

Mr Buckingham said that he was also excited about future projects MRD was currently working on.

“There’s a little one that has the potential to be huge… we just finished a proof of concept for an augmented VR training system,” he said. “This has been done in partnership with OLAM, SuniTAFE and one of our start-ups out of SproutX.

“What I am most proud of is that we have companies coming to MRD saying that they want to work with us – and these are big companies.”