By Jed Lanyon
In 2017, Yarra Ranges Enterprise Centre was saved from demise and is now thriving once again in supporting the small businesses of the Yarra Valley.
YREC’s future came under threat with the proposed government sell-off of the land it had occupied for 17 years. At the time the enterprise centre lost many of its occupants who held concerns about the long-term future of the organisation.
“The state government rang in July 2016 and said ‘we’re selling this asset’, being the property,” YREC Executive Officer Alison Fitzgerald said.
“We were maintaining it the best we could with the funds we had… There was a period of 18 months where we did everything we could to try and let them know what this place was doing for the community.”
After months of uncertainty, the Minister for Planning called to open a dialogue around YREC purchasing the premises and a year later the sale went through.
“Now we consider it our asset. We could finally do things like plan for the future,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Executive officer and CEO Alison Fitzgerald said YREC is in great shape today, offering a competitive advantage and a professional environment as opposed to running a small business from home.
“We got up to 96 per cent occupancy a couple months ago. It just so happens that there are a couple people looking to move out now.”
Those businesses moving on have outgrown the enterprise centre and are now prospering across the Yarra Ranges.
Ms Fitzgerald said the organisation began as a ‘business incubator’ due to high rates of unemployment in the area and the recent closure of Warburton’s Sanitarium factory.
Ms Fitzgerald said she first encountered YREC in 2014 when she was attempting to start her own small business, but said that it wasn’t a good experience. At the time she had recently moved from Hong Kong to Warburton.
“We moved from living with 7 million people in Hong Kong, to Warburton. It was a dramatic shock.
“I had a corporate background and I could see the potential in how this should be working… It needed a lot of work, it was quite run down and there weren’t many tenants here.
“I approached a couple of people and it just so happened that the executive officer role was being advertised, so I put in and got the job.”