Bellingen is buzzing with IT
By UTE SCHULENBERG
SIXTEEN years ago, when Barry Smith purchased Bellingen's old Hammond and Wheatley building, he had a vision of a town where people could earn their livings from home, dealing with clients in the cities.
Although ahead of his time then, time has caught up and Bellingen is now home to a growing number of IT businesses, run by people who have moved here for lifestyle reasons.
Computer programmer Carolyn Seaton, of Seaton Office Solutions, said she first visited the area during one of the festivals and thought it was a 'funky little town' that was a bit different.
Huge overheads in Sydney meant Carolyn was looking for somewhere else to base herself.
"Achieving my goals was not getting any easier in the city, so I took the plunge and moved here," Ms Seaton said.
"I could afford to buy an old house, the town is interesting, there is ADSL and I am near an airport.
"Ninety five per cent of my clients are in Sydney and Melbourne they don't care where I am based."
What she also found was support, through local networks including the Coffs Coast IT cluster.
"As IT developers we can be very cloistered, especially if you work from home, but the cluster means we can network with like-minded people and talk about business, our plans and how to better commercialise our products," she said.
According to web designer Gethin Coles, of Edible Media, there is a word for this idea of co-operating with your competition 'comperation'.
He moved to Bellingen three years ago.
"It was a slog for the first two years, but now it's fantastic and I expect to take on a couple of people this year."
Another business that has grown beyond owner Paul Forest's wildest expectations, is First Place Design.
"I felt isolated at first, because I had my eye on being global and I didn't want to step on any toes locally," Mr Forest said.
"But joining the cluster has given me somewhere to seek guidance about my future development."
What started in one room of the house, has now moved into a shed out the back and employs 12 people.
First Place Design deals in search engine optimisation, which is a volatile and rapidly growing area of IT.
"Potentially we could be employing 30 people within a year," he said.
"A lot of people with the skills we need have moved to the area recently."
Bellingen Shire's economic development officer, Don Tydd, is not surprised, at this 'clustering' of IT talent.
"Research has shown that where there are creative people, others want to be there too," Mr Tydd said.
"Bellingen is a very creative area and we are starting to see a new era in business."