WITH regional start-ups playing an integral role in the social fabric and local economies of our regional towns, the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days will launch a Regional Start-up Arena at this year's event, to be held on August 25-26.
The new space for regional start-ups will feature 18 exhibition spaces, with the section purposely kept small so that the successful businesses can receive maximum exposure.
Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days chairwoman and event co-ordinator Nadine McMorran said the concept for the Regional Start-up Arena was formed at a post-event debrief following the 2019 event - the event was not held last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Ms McMorran said the organisation wanted to provide a platform for regional sole traders to showcase their products to the public.
"With the help of Louise Hagboom, who is also a field days board member and the successful owner of Measure My Tribe (which specialises in handcrafted growth charts and custom designed baby rulers), our little concept was born," Ms McMorran said.
"We have had the lifestyle exhibit every year, which promotes the smaller, boutique-type businesses but this new section has taken it to the next level, because there has been quite an influx of micro-businesses in the Wheatbelt.
"COVID has only enhanced our passion for supporting regional areas and we have a few small business owners on our own committee, so we decided to provide a new platform and outlet for the creative minds in the regions.
"When you drive through regional areas it can be a bit sad to see that some small businesses have closed, so it's important we support our local businesses because that, in turn, is supporting our local communities."
Shire of Dowerin chief officer Rebecca McCall said niche businesses within the Wheatbelt were adding to the quality of life of those living in its small regional towns.
"The core business of agriculture in the Wheatbelt is really strong - our farmers are doing well and the ag services industry is doing really well, but these start-ups contribute to connectivity within our communities and are important for the mental and emotional wellbeing of our residents," Ms McCall said.
"Regional start-ups play a very integral role in the survival of our regional communities because although agriculture is our main industry, there is that decentralisation of government services, so the more services that we have access to in the regions through our small businesses, the better."
The Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days committee planned to launch the new exhibition space last year before the event was cancelled.
With close to 24,000 visitors over the two-day event and applications for exhibitors now open, Ms McMorran said the committee had already received a lot of interest from both new and old exhibitors.
Although the event won't be limited with numbers this year, the committee is still required to create a COVID-19 event plan and met with the Newdegate, Mingenew and Wagin field days committees last week to learn from one another on how to plan their events in a post-COVID-19 environment.
"We organised our first meeting with the other field day committees in November last year because we are all in the same boat, so instead of working against each other we want to help each other and share some resources," Ms McMorran said.
"We attended the Wagin Woolorama to see how their event went and talked to the committee so that we can learn from their experience."
With regional travel in focus due to COVID-19 restrictions closing interstate and international travel borders, the committee has also created extra room for the caravan and camping industry at this year's field days.
"We have also redesigned the inside lots of the football oval to make it a bit more user friendly, so there is potential for the car dealers to be relocated to that space and we've moved the Good Food and Getaways marquee off the oval and put it in the Leisure and Outdoor area," Ms McMorran said.
"Behind the scenes we're trying to line up a few big names as our guest speakers, so we will announce those in due course."
August will be a busy month for the region, with Northam hosing the 2021 Avon Descent on August 14-15 and the National Ballooning Championships from August 30 to September 4.
"As our event is a not-for-profit, the majority of funds goes straight back to our community, not just Dowerin but the surrounding communities as well," Ms McMorran said.
"We encourage people to get in the car and come and experience what regional WA has to offer."