Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Digital Economy on a Bicycle

After a recent visit to South Australia to assist in the launch of a so called Digital Enterprise Centre I came away with a tasty new view of economic development.

The village of Willunga in the vales south of Adelaide is renowned throughout the cycling world for its infamous hill that is an annual fixture in the ever-expanding Tour Down Under. The three-kilometre hill is broadcast to tens of millions of viewers each and every January, as the world's best cyclists fight each other for the title of 'King of the mountain'.

Yet Willunga and the surrounding district is also a centre of both local fresh food markets and the super-high-speed internet through the National Broadband Network (NBN) pilot program. The village is therefore an eclectic mix of events and possibilities that on the surface don't naturally fit together. Yet, I soon discovered 'oil and vinegar' make for great salad dressing.

The farmer's market in Willunga is held every Saturday morning in the town square and features both real farmers and real local food. As a result it has won local, state and national awards for its food and atmosphere. Locals walk or ride their bikes to stock up on fresh food, wines and bakery items. Others also come from as far away as northern Adelaide to get the best and freshest food that can be found. In many ways the area has echoes of provincial France or Italy, and its older colonial homes and small churches complete the milieu.

The farmer's market organisation, though, has also been infected with innovative ways. The marketing and development managers have spawned the idea of replicating the real market place as a Virtual Farmer' Market, which has set heads a-spinning.

The idea that has been prototyped allows people to walk through a virtual market in 3D and visit the tents and stalls as they are in reality. The young team that's working on the project has been inspired by the possibilities their local NBN roll out has afforded them: the opportunity to create new and innovative services to augment the market is driving optimism and change.

Digital Dave at Willunga with Billy Doecke
Billy Doecke and Dave Abrahams at the Willunga Markets.
Photo courtesy of Dave Abrahams.
Billy Doecke, part of the innovation team, speaks enthusiastically of the possibilities of the emerging new 3D service. She says they’re hoping to create video introductions of the stall holders so people can get to know them before they arrive and purchase produce. They’re also keen on getting the sellers to list what they are selling each week so people can view online what will be sold at the markets on Saturdays.

Now, having left Willunga, I feel a little sentimental - not so much for their provincial setting and fresh food, but for the positive and innovative atmosphere that they are building on the back of their NBN roll out. I hope to be able to inspire a similar change in my regional economy when the NBN rolls out on the Central Coast of NSW later this year.

Perhaps fresh local food, wine, optimism and superfast networks can deliver a new economic renaissance to many regions across Australia. Oh, and with such high speed 3D virtual reality don't forget your bicycle helmet.

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