How one father-and-daughter business based in Horsham, a city of about 16,5000 in the Wimmera, is boosting manufacturing for the region.
“State government support gave us more confidence and drive to take the business to the next level.” Lolita Small, director, Smallaire
Since 1974, Gary Small, 72, and his daughter Lolita Small, 46, have operated Smallaire, a 21-staff company in Horsham that creates broadacre cropping products that are shipped to Russia, The United States, Canada, the Netherlands and South Africa.
The duo are well-known in the local community, having moved to Horsham 31 years ago from the small town of Rainbow in the Mallee.
They’ve been pretty busy in the interim. Since it started up, Smallaire - winner of the 2018 ‘Wimmera Business of the year’ and a finalist in the 2018 Manufacturing Hall of Fame awards delivered the Victorian Government and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry - has carved out a sizeable manufacturing niche. It makes high pressure blowers and other components for airseeders that plant seed with greater accuracy and even distribution, resulting in better seed germination and a higher yield. It also manufactures high-pressure blowers and grain aeration equipment and misting units for farmers, plus custom-built fans and evaporative air conditioners for industrial, commercial and residential use.
And recently, with a $500,000 Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund (RJIF) grant designed to help stimulate growth and create jobs, Smallaire has invested a state-of-the-art profile plasma cutter and built a freight logistics shed to efficiently store more stock. In turn, eight new jobs have been created.
“Without the Victorian government’s financial and strategic planning help, we would’ve struggled: we have in the past. Their support gave us more confidence and drive to take the business to the next level,” Lolita reflects.
The best thing about operating a family operation in Horsham, she says, is the ability to create opportunity for people of all ages. “I love watching our younger generation and mature generation work together and I love helping families stay in the region. It gives me great pleasure in seeing our staff gain new knowledge, experience and succeed in their roles. I particularly enjoy watching the younger generation grow from shy, unsure apprentices into confident and knowledgeable young adults. I feel like my staff are my family and I don’t believe it’d feel the same if our business wasn’t a family business. I’ve known some of the staff here since I was 14. I used to visit the factory after school - I’d throw my schoolbag down, venture out into the factory and just chat with them. Now, 31 years later, I still have chats with those same people.
“I see my role in the community as to support other local businesses, to try to give opportunities for the new generation to stay in the region offering skilled trade positions and teaching good work ethics, communication and give confidence to people to strive to be the best they can be. I’m also a fitness instructor at the local YMCA, keeping in-touch with the local community and helping people de-stress and hit fitness goals.”
How does she read the long-term future of Smallaire? “Having achieved our initial exporting and importing goals and having built the extension on our current premises, the aim for the next 10 years is to further grow our clientele in Australia and overseas, continue to manufacture and supply our quality products to the high standards we promise and to be a company that people want to work for and be associated with.”
To people considering Horsham for a ‘tree change’, Lolita’s advice is “just do it’. “It's a family-friendly, supportive community and you end up becoming a local in no time. We have the Grampians and the Arapiles on our doorstep, Aquatic Centre facilities, the Wimmera River, lakes, parks, gardens, beautiful little towns. And did I mention space? The area is quiet while still offering the opportunity for families to relocate and have a country lifestyle. Traffic isn’t a hassle, the weather’s a great contrast of warm and cool, and the work culture is relaxed but it still gives you job satisfaction.”
Projects like Smallaire highlight the success of RJIF.
The government is providing an extra $30 million in funding for RJIF as part of the $2.6 billion Delivering for Rural and Regional Victoria Program, focussing on boosting jobs, building infrastructure and strengthening communities around the state.