Community leaders from all areas of government, industry, the education sector, business and social services came together online for the first COVID-19 Recovery Working Group meeting on April 23 to map a way forward for the Port Macquarie-Hastings region.
The working group will put recommendations to council for action focusing on economic, business, education, social, cultural and environmental priorities as key areas for recovery and growth.
The group's objectives will focus on how the region can successfully recover from the COVID-19 health crisis.
Chaired by council's general manager Craig Swift McNair, emerging discussion themes included how bringing forward capital works projects may activate the economy, what role the education sector might play in upskilling and retraining and how retail and hospitality have adapted.
Part of that planning will also be identifying the most vulnerable residents in the region and connecting them with the right people and resources to ensure it is a whole of community approach to recovery.
The charter for the working group was adopted by council at it's April meeting.
"We haven't had to deal with something like this as a council ever before," Mr Swift-McNair said.
"Council has resolved a whole raft of relief measures that we have implemented and this working group was a part of that resolution.
"This is a commitment to both community and business support."
Mr Swift-McNair said the financial implications for council as a result of COVID-19 are yet to be realised, but business units including the airport and the Glasshouse are likely to be significantly impacted.
"What is the impact on council financially? The honest truth is we don't have a true answer to that yet," he said.
"We don't know how many people in our community are going to need relief yet. Our teams are modelling how things might look in three, six, 12 and 24 months. At the end of the day council still has to be viable and we have to be a successful business."
Council has managed to keep employed all of its 500+ staff and has already transitioned two thirds of the workforce to an online model.
"That was a phenomenal effort," Mr Swift-McNair said.
The group represents a diverse cross-section of the community across all sectors including the Chambers of Commerce, Business NSW, Birpai and Bunyah Local Aboriginal Land Councils, the Town Centre Master Plan Committee, Regional Development Australia, social services including headspace, Lifeline and Liberty Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Service, Australian Community Media, education representatives from the Mid North Coast Community College, North Coast TAFE and Charles Sturt University, St Agnes' Parish, Arts Mid North Coast and the business, retail, tourism and construction industries.
Mayor Peta Pinson said it was vitally important for the working group to develop a strategy and actions that will assist the community return to a "new normal", particularly after copping a triple hit with drought, bushfires and now COVID-19.
Among the top priorities are bringing forward council's major infrastructure projects including the construction of the new aquatic facility in Port Macquarie, the duplication of Ocean Drive and Boundary Street works to lock in the future of the airport business precinct.
Cr Pinson said at the heart of it, there is a real opportunity for council to give Port Macquarie a point of difference with a major overhaul of the foreshore.
"The foreshore is the coastal spine right through our CBD area," Cr Pinson said
"The Short Street car park and foreshore area needs to have a real vision for what we want it to look like in the future ... and not just for tourism but also as a hub on the weekend for locals as well.
"Bringing large projects like this forward will benefit our community."