Start-ups get backing

01 Mar 2017 Border Mail, Albury-Wodonga (General News) by Ellen Ebsary STAFF with a disability account for 33 per cent of the workforce at Merriwa Industries, making it one of Australias leaders in inclusive employment. It was for this reason the Wangaratta-based organisation was chosen by the state government as a site to launch its social enterprise strategy on Monday. Chief executive Bart Crawley said the six-division company, which began as the North East Handicap Association in 1975, funded a number of community programs. The whole idea of what we do is we trade as a business to generate cash flow to provide a social impact, he said. We have two packaging divisions, two timber businesses providing laminated beams and hardwood flooring to the Victorian market, park lane (nursery) and a community services division. Prominently, Merriwas focus is around supporting employment for people with a disability. Northern Victoria Labor MLC Jaclyn Symes represented Industry and Employment Minister Wade Noonan in launching the strategy at Merriwas nursery. It is estimated there are more than 5000 social enterprises employing 75,000 people . I was equally impressed that just here in the Wangaratta area there are more than 100, she said. Merriwa is a great example of how successful businesses can be while also taking the time to provide potential social benefits. The government will spend $5 million on strategy initiatives, which include creating a social enterprise network, connecting buyers with the enterprises through an online resource and offering training and support. Research will begin in April, a social procurement strategy is due to be developed by December and those involved in the sector will be invited to a networking meeting on March 29. Among those invited will be Matt Pfahlert, chief executive of the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship. The fact theres a social enterprise now in Victoria for the first time in Australia means we can start to ramp up some some of the support we can be to rural and regional Victoria, he said. Were borrowing off the experience of counties like Scotland that focus on social enterprise. Were challenging communities to start looking at the issues they care about and come up with an enterprise approach to grow their own activities. Caption Text: DEDICATED: Brad Howarth, Adam Sylwestrzak and Caroline Metcraft are part of the workforce at Merriwa Industries, a Wangaratta social enterprise. Picture: ELLEN EBSARY Licensed by Copyright Agency. You may only copy or communicate this work with a licence.