- Sarah Becker is actively involved in Beef Week, an event held in Rockhampton in May.
- Regional areas must promote themselves if they are to attract future generations, she believes.
- Becker, who sits on CA ANZ’s Rural and Regional Advisory Committee, won the 2012 Rabobank Young Beef Ambassador Award.
By Ben Power.
Sarah Becker faced a choice when she finished her degree at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. She could begin her career in Brisbane, or back home in Rockhampton, the Central Queensland regional city known as Australia’s beef capital. “It was more out of my comfort zone to go back to Rocky because I’d become acclimatised to the Brisbane life,” she says.
She had lived in Brisbane for a decade, including a stint at boarding school, St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School. But she chose Rockhampton and a career at her father’s firm, specialised rural and business advisory James Becker & Co. Thirty-four-year-old Becker was determined not just to forge an accounting career, but to contribute to the city’s development as a regional centre. “I want people to see that Rocky isn’t just a beef country town, but also see it’s a great city with great professional, career and lifestyle opportunities as well.”
Becker is a big believer in regional cities such as Rockhampton, which she says has amazing opportunities that will keep improving with innovation and investment. And she says regional areas must promote themselves if they are to attract future generations.
Driving diversification through innovation
Rockhampton straddles the Fitzroy River about 600 kilometres north of Brisbane. While it has a population of more than 80,000, making it the 22nd-largest city in Australia, it services a region of about 3.5 million people.
The strength of the beef industry and a well-diversified economy (the city is an education, rail and health hub) helped to insulate Central Queensland from the full impact of the mining downturn. The benchmark Eastern Young Cattle Indicator has been in a strong long-term uptrend, hitting records in 2016 and remaining strong in 2017.
But Becker says Rockhampton needs to continue to diversify its economy through the greater use of innovation and technology, which will create new industries and accelerate growth in existing industries such as beef.
With 3.5 million head of cattle, Rockhampton’s Fitzroy region has the nation’s largest herd. The city hosts the triennial Beef Week, which will be held in May this year, attracting visitors from around the world and putting Rockhampton squarely on the international stage.
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Becker sits on Beef 2018’s Symposium and Seminar Committee, which sources speakers and facilitates the symposiums and seminars for the week. This year’s theme is ‘global disruption’ and the committee has invited a range of presenters from outside the beef industry, including digital futurist Chris Riddell, food systems innovation expert Sarah Nolet, and Tim Gentle, the founder of Farm VR, which provides virtual reality tours of farms.
Becker, who won the 2012 Rabobank Young Beef Ambassador Award for her contribution to the industry, says the beef industry needs to look overseas for ideas on innovation and disruption. “There is a massive push to get beef out of its comfort zone and push it through technology,” she says. “Sometimes we’re too focused on what the person is doing next door. We need to look around the world at what people are doing in other industries and products.”
A public and private enterprise
High-tech innovation, however, requires infrastructure including mobile coverage, which can be patchy in regional areas and determines businesses’ ability to make efficiency gains. But Becker says regional economic development can’t be left solely to government. “It requires a partnership between government and private enterprise.”
She cites Toowoomba, which has a population of about 110,000, as an example. The Wagner family spent $100 million building the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, Australia’s first new airport in 44 years.
“Someone has gone in there and, said ‘we’re backing this area’,” she says.
“The town [Rockhampton] needs to back its own self better.” As a CA, Becker says she has a role fostering innovation. “We need to encourage more people to start or expand a business.”
Ultimately, however, creating opportunities isn’t enough, she adds. Regional areas must sell those, particularly to the next generation. “We need to tell people what great opportunities there are here,” she says. “They are different opportunities to those in capital cities, but they are by no means less.”
Regional areas are great places for professionals because the work is broad and interesting, says Becker, who also sits on CA ANZ’s Rural and Regional Advisory Committee and is a board member for Chartered Accountants ANZ’s Rockhampton committee. She provides a complete and comprehensive business management service to her clients, which include beef and cropping enterprises, ancillary agricultural businesses and larger family firms. “You are someone from the outside looking into their business and helping them with business decisions, and not just keeping them up to date from a compliance point of view.”
Another key selling point for regional cities and areas is lifestyle. Becker drives through just one set of traffic lights on the way to work. All amenities are within 10 to 15 minutes. The airport means she can travel. “It’s not like we’re in the dark ages in a small little country town.”
Becker says she constantly reads about housing affordability in the capital cities. But with median house prices at just $200,000 in Rockhampton, she says that is a Sydney and Melbourne issue.
Becker, a weekly panellist on ABC Capricornia radio, says she will keep pushing for Rockhampton to reach its full potential, but will also keep promoting the opportunities available in regional areas to help bring city and country closer together. “Everyone used to have a country cousin or an auntie who lived in the country,” she says. “It really concerns me that people don’t know where their meat comes from; or they think country people are cruel to animals. We need to break down those barriers.”
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Ben Power is a finance, economics and business writer based in Sydney.