IN the wake of Mildura’s fifth COVID lockdown which hit small businesses hard, Mildura Regional Development (MRD) and the Mildura Weekly are calling on the generous spirit of Sunraysia residents once again to support the local economy.

MRD CEO Brett Millington was out last Friday leading by example and organising a group of people for lunch at Andy’s Kitchen for the ‘Fork it local Friday’ promotion to support local businesses.

“We have a group of 12 here today at Andy’s and we are going to enjoy lunch together and make the most of being able to support a local business,” Mr Millington said.

“Andy has had it tough particularly with his other restaurant, Mr Bun Mi, impacted by closure after being listed as a Tier 1 exposure site and this is a way for us to be able to give a little bit back to him.

“Andy has been so generous in supporting the frontline workers with free meals and so anything we can do to help support him and his staff and to bring people together, then we are delighted to do that.”

Mr Millington said that we had recently seen that generosity of spirit on display in Mildura during the lockdown, which the CEO of Mildura Base Public Hospital Terry Welch had applauded during the recent COVID outbreak in Mildura.

“I think the other gratifying thing was how everyone who needed to go out to be tested did so and self-isolated – people did the right thing and that made it easier for us to be able to open back up,” he said.

Mr Millington was also pleased that Mildura has ‘dodged’ a major bullet with the known cases being contained to only five and later revised down to four.

“It certainly does seem that way, but let’s not forget there was a family in Mildura who was badly impacted by COVID and so they need support too,” he said.

“Let’s pull together as a community and make sure we are being kind and that we support one another.

Mr Millington’s group said they enjoyed a delicious lunch and fantastic customer service at Andy’s, where they were also joined by Member for Mallee Anne Webster and her team, who were really keen to be part of this great initiative and support our local community.

“It’s a great idea and people I think are now having the confidence to come out again and that’s a good thing for our local businesses,” Dr Webster said.

“I encourage people to come and celebrate life, celebrate family and friends your staff and Fork it Friday – it is a great initiative to get us out of our houses and our offices and to Fork it Local!”

Mr Millington added that while the whole of the state had suffered, it probably hit Mildura worse.

“Because we are a tri-state town, we certainly rely on that South Australian, New South Wales and Victorian input to our local economy,” he said.

“I suppose if we can take any consolation from it – at least it was in the middle of Winter and not in our peak summer period or otherwise when tourism would be at its strongest.

“It’s not just the tourism industry that is feeling the devastating effects of these lockdowns, it’s right across the state and certainly all across the Murray region. And so the element that we need to keep reinforcing is that ‘shop local’ message – getting out and supporting local businesses in the first instance.”

Mr Millington said that online expenditure levels have continued to increase over the last 18 months.

“So I say to people, let’s have a think about how we may be able to help support a local shop, a restaurant, and other businesses and perhaps alter our expenditure habits at this time,” he said.

With lockdown after lockdown, business had taken a pounding and not all of them have survived and many are just clinging on, which is something that isn’t lost on Mr Millington.

“That’s exactly right. Perhaps the one fortunate element that we had during the March and April period, including Easter, was that we actually enjoyed a boom-time and I think that gave people a little bit of an injection,” he said.

“However, the real challenge is being able to sustain our workforce. 
Businesses want keep their workers, but it comes at a cost and many are struggling in that context too.”

By JOHN DOOLEY

BELOW: The team from Mildura Regional Development and the Member for Mallee’s office were out in force in support of Andy’s Kitchen at “Fork it Local Friday” lunch last week.