In a region thriving with resources, agricultural and local business activity, the role of a local chamber of commerce is fundamental to ensuring stakeholders in the economy are well connected and cohesive.

The efforts of Robyn Haig, manager of the Chinchilla Chamber of Commerce and Industry, were recognised in last month’s Australia Day honours when Robyn was awarded Citizen of the Year by the Western Downs Regional Council.

Judges commended Robyn for her passion for local business and the community, citing her organisation and implementation of some of Chinchilla’s most well-known community initiatives, including the Town Proud Buy Local campaign, Small Business Summit, Chinchilla BEST Group, and One Long Table Multicultural Food Festival.

Country Caller sat down with Robyn to ask about the recognition she received, and for her perspective of the challenges and opportunities in the Western Downs as the region embraces the ‘post pandemic’ era.

Robyn Haig (centre), manager of Chinchilla Community, Commerce and Industry, presented the Citizen of the Year Award by Western Downs mayor Paul McVeigh and councillor Kaye Maquire

Q&A with Robyn Haig, manager of Chinchilla Community, Commerce and Industry

Tell us about your background, and what brought you to Chinchilla?

I grew up on a grazing property near Eulo, west of Cunnamulla, and returned there after boarding school and uni in Toowoomba to work on my family property. I worked in roles with the Department of Primary Industries, Natural Resources and Mining and council tourism in western Queensland before my husband Damien and I relocated to Chinchilla in 2009 when he started a role with Origin. Since moving to the Western Downs I have held roles in Landcare, Drilling Maintenance, Banking and Civil Construction before coming to Chinchilla Community Commerce & Industry (CCCI). We now live on a small farm just outside Chinchilla with our two girls Stella and Alexis who attend school locally.

How did you come to be involved in the CCCI and what does your role entail?

When many of the coal seam gas projects transitioned from construction to the operational phase mid 2010’s, the company I was working for dramatically scaled back in the region and I found myself with a bit more flexibility with my time. I already had a few people in my network who had worked with the CCCI, either on the board or through events. When I was approached about the newly vacant Events role at the CCCI in 2016 I was keen to give it a go and see what I could contribute to my community. Back in 2016 all roles with CCCI were part time and I think I started by doing just a few hours a week. Later when the previous manager left in 2017 I took on my current role. The time commitment has grown significantly since the early days but I continue to find the opportunity to work with both businesses and community incredibly rewarding.

What have been some of the highlights from your time with the CCCI?

I think I enjoy the ‘hidden’ victories the best. I’m always delighted when a CCCI can bring an opportunity to a local business and they go on to turn it into a long term package of work or project. The CCCI’s part in it may have been as small as making the initial introduction or providing a bit of intel but it’s incredibly rewarding to be even a small part of a success story for a local business.

The Chinchilla Bringing Employers and Schools Together (BEST) Group is a program I’m incredibly proud of. This program has connected hundreds of Chinchilla, Miles and Wandoan students with local employers since it began in 2018. We have some great success stories of local kids using skills and connections from the program to go on and secure themselves great career opportunities when they leave school.

You were of course awarded Western Downs Citizen of the Year in the Australia Day honours. How does it feel to receive that recognition?

I feel incredibly privileged to be recognised for something I find so personally rewarding. I’m also conscious that all the projects and programs I work on rely heavily on the input of others. Without the network around me and the support of the Chinchilla and Western Downs community, very little of what I do is achievable. I continue to be incredibly grateful to all those who have supported me and contributed over the years, I suppose this award is part theirs too.

To you, what does it mean to be Australian?

To me Australians are very resilient, we address and overcome challenges with good humour and a desire to move forward.

What do you enjoy most about living on the Western Downs?

Having lived both east and west of the Western Downs I feel our region is right in a ‘’sweet spot’’ geographically. We still have a rural feel which I love while being close enough to major centres to balance a great lifestyle. There are opportunities here for my children that will set them up for their future while my family can still maintain our connection to agriculture.

Ever since I moved here I have been incredibly inspired by individuals and organisations on the Western Downs who so actively work to support and improve their communities. I suppose it was these people and groups who inspired me to want to get involved myself when I first moved here.

From a local business and economy perspective, what opportunities does the ‘post pandemic’ world bring?

I feel during the pandemic we have see some sectors of business be incredibly proactive about planning and managing risk. The ability to respond and change quickly will be an extra tool in their tool belt for years to come.

I think there is also an increased awareness from our local businesses of the importance of whole of community health. I feel some businesses in particular should be commended for the lengths they have gone to ensure they are reducing the risk to their community.

The Western Downs has been lucky to see investment in projects continue through the Covid era, so I feel we are as well placed as any region in regards to the strength of our economy coming out of Covid.

What are the challenges moving forward?

I feel the immediate challenge we face is keeping our energy up. This relates to both community and business. Everyone has made so many changes and concessions, and have worked extra hard to ensure as much as safely possible continues on during Covid. I think that people are rightly feeling a little weary coming into 2022. But again the Western Downs is in a good position and there are so many opportunities here. I’m hopeful that will carry us through.

What would your advice be to businesses and community groups looking to establish themselves on the Western Downs?

I’d advise them to reach out to the services available to them to make sure everyone knows they are here so they can get linked into the network. Between local chambers, council, government departments and other organisations there are so many support services available to both businesses and organisations, but we can’t help you if we don’t know you are out there.

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