BUSINESS representatives and guest speakers met in Scone on Monday to collaborate on all things innovation and the future.
A small business expo, organised by Upper Hunter Shire Council and Scone Chamber of Commerce, was held at Campbell's Corner as an initiative for Small Business Month.
A range of information and services were on hand aimed at supporting and inspiring local businesses during these unprecedented times following the drought, Covid-19 and the ongoing impact of the Scone Bypass.
The day culminated in a 'think tank' session with a panel of speakers and an audience brainstorming ideas about what they can do to attract investment and tourism to the Upper Hunter Shire.
Guest speakers included former Lord Mayor of Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, Marty Adnum from Out of the Square Media and David Paradice of Paradice Investment Management.
They were joined on the panel by local faces Kiwa Fisher (Upper Hunter Shire Council), Rachael McGuirk (Helloworld Travel Scone) Steve Tilse (Upper Hunter Country Tourism) and Alice Messara (Arrowfield Stud).
Topics ranged from identifying new and emerging industries to building upon the region's existing strengths and how best to market them to an outside audience.
Lucy Turnbull, who appeared via Zoom, said Scone had suffered from a double whammy with the drought and Covid-19 and now their town being bypassed however stressed that a crisis creates an opportunity to create a resilient future and Scone is well-poised for that.
Creating a 'cycling mecca' around Scone and making it one of the cycling capitals of NSW was an idea pushed heavily by Mrs Turnbull.
"I think the Scone bypass creates a real opportunity for the Upper Hunter region to be able to build cycleways and cycle lanes and those cycle lanes could also be built on a lot of the back roads that lead into Scone," Mrs Turnbull said.
"Many of which have varying steepness and gradients which is perfect for cyclists from five-years-old to elite, Lycra wearing cyclists.
"I think the idea of building a cycling mecca, starting at Scone and obviously going to Muswellbrook when the bypass is finished there, would be a great tourist magnet because there are very few places in Sydney which you could call cycling magnets.
"It's not only the natural topography; it's also the natural historic progression from horses.
"You're always going to have a very strong horse breeding economy, but cycling was the next thing that came after horse riding, so it's kind of neat that way. It's also part of a decarbonising message."
David Paradice said he would like to see Scone build on their education industry which was something that was also heavily pushed by Arrowfield's Alice Messara.
She flagged the idea that a horse themed kids park could be built at Elizabeth Park which is perfectly situated on the way to Tamworth.
"Given that we are the second largest thoroughbred breeder outside of Kentucky, we have such a good product that we can build our town on and there are so many industries that we can attach to the thoroughbred industry that don't just involve stud tours," Alice said.
"Children, particularly in Sydney, love the opportunity to get to the country and learn about animals, whether it be beef, sheep in Merriwa or the thoroughbred.
"If we had a facility they could stay they could come and learn about agriculture and agribusiness.
"There are so many emerging industries that we can tap on the back of what we've already got, I don't think we need to create anything necessarily new because that takes a lot of work.
"The bike riding comes off the back of the studs, and off agribusiness and enjoying what we've got around us. Glenbawn comes back into that, going to Barrington Tops and mountain hiking."
The need for an online Scone Community Portal was also raised, as well as making sure accommodation is easily accessible which is currently an issue.
Upper Hunter Country Tourism president Steve Tilse urged local property owners to open their properties to caravans and campers and said there was more of a need for Bed and Breakfasts because people wanted to experience something rural and out of their comfort zone.
"Every business is a tourism operator and we have to encourage people to be willing to sell their town in any aspect, that's the most important thing," he said.
Helloworld Travel's Rachael McGuirk added that local business operators needed to know their town so they can be an advocate for it.
"I think we need to turn the positivity button on and we need to get Upper Hunter Country Tourism's list of places to go and see in to every business so that if you have someone that comes in and says 'what can I do in town' you can rattle them off," she said.
"You need to know your own town, you need to know the tourist destinations that are here."
The restrictions to international travel due to Covid-19 also present the perfect opportunity for Scone and the Upper Hunter because now more than ever people want to get out of the city and they are looking at weekend trips to the country.
Out of the Square Media's Marty Adnum touched on this and said the assets Scone has are absolutely incredible but currently aren't being concisely communicated.
"When we did our bit of research we went to the Scone Visitor Information Centre listing on Google and it's a dead link," he said.
"I was still trying to find a single source, I understand there's Upper Hunter Country and I understand there's Scone it's still very complicated for an outsider to punch into Google and go 'I just want to visit Scone for a holiday'.
"SEO and a united communication would be ideal so that's probably a little bit of revisiting brand and identity.
"Your timing is exceptional but you do need to get a wiggle on because the appetite is there from those metropolitan markets to get raw and real and that's what you guys have got in spades."