23 December 2022

New Griffith Business Chamber president targets affordable housing and skill shortage

| Oliver Jacques
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John Nikolic

John Nikolic wants Griffith to be a more welcoming place for newcomers. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The new president of the Griffith Business Chamber is keen to develop a good relationship with Griffith City Council to tackle the town’s housing and skill shortages and to make the region a more welcoming place for newcomers.

While the chamber and council often clashed in the past, John Nikolic, a director at law firm Cater and Blumer, has been building bridges since taking the top job at the not-for-profit membership-based group in October.

“I have enormous respect for what has occurred in the past and what past presidents have done,” Mr Nikolic said.

“But [the previous period] was a bit of a product of the time. There has been institutional renewal both on council and within the chamber. It’s not just me, we’ve also got a new vice-president in Alycia McLean [owner of pool maker ELM Aquatics].

“My focus is on building institutional capital and goodwill between the chamber and the council and also with other organisations including the media and other government departments, so we can engage collectively on works, which is what we need to do if we’re going to progress various projects.”

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Mr Nikolic, who was born and bred in Canberra before moving to Griffith in 2021, took over the presidency from chamber stalwart Paul Pierotti, who resigned from the organisation after 30 years of service.

“I’m pleased to see John stepping into this role. He’s motivated and driven. Chamber is in good hands,” Mr Pierotti said.

As a newcomer to the town, Mr Nikolic wants to make Griffith a more welcoming place for those following him here.

“When people move here for work, we want them to stay. They’re more likely to do so if they have strong social bonds,” he said.

“One initiative we have with council is our social business network. The aim is to provide for regular social events, on a monthly basis, for new and existing employees in town. It is aimed at those who move to Griffith and don’t necessarily have a social network.”

Group eating at table of Christmas party

One social event organised by the chamber was the recent Jingle and Mingle Christmas Party. Photo: Facebook.

But a much bigger barrier to external staff recruitment is the lack of housing. Rental vacancies sit at less than 1 per cent, a problem the new president would like to see addressed.

“We need more government-led development,” he said.

“The chamber would like to play a role in assisting council with business cases and demonstrating to state and federal government the kind of economic uplift we would get if we can get more workers in this region … [if we can do that] we’ll have really good leverage to go to government and get up developments that otherwise wouldn’t be funded.

“There is plenty of land to use if we are clever about it. We need a diversity of smaller medium-to-high-density government projects to address what is a severe supply issue.”

READ MORE New workers in Riverina left with nowhere to live as rental vacancies hit record lows

To address the chronic labour and skill shortage in town, Mr Nikolic is working on delivering what’s called a Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) for Griffith, a flexible government agreement that provides for migrants to come here with fewer regulations and more incentives to stay.

“The DAMA incentivises workers and migrants to come to this region as it provides a guaranteed pathway to permanent residency,” he said.

“There are also concessions in terms of age restrictions and relaxations around English literacy tests … it gives employers a broader pool of workers to choose from.”

The chamber is supporting Regional Development Australia-Riverina (RDA-Riverina), a committee representing 14 local government areas, in its efforts to expand the existing DAMA in place in Orana so that it would encompass the Riverina, including Griffith. RDA-Riverina is hoping to have the expanded DAMA up and running in February 2023.

Further information on the DAMA and the chamber’s social business network can be found on the Griffith Business Chamber Facebook page.

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