Education and tourism keys to 'beautiful' region’s future: Westpac CEO

ORANGE is well placed to recover from the Electrolux closure and education will be the key to unlocking new opportunities in the area, acccording to Westpac chief executive officer Gail Kelly.

Mrs Kelly visited Westpac branches in Orange and Bathurst to meet customers and acknowledge high-achieveing staff while on a whirlwind tour of the region on Thursday.

Her visit came just one day after the bank launched its $100 million educational scholarship program, the largest ever from a private organisation.

Mrs Kelly said the foundation would encourage people in regional areas to apply for the scholarships, which will be phased in from next year and grow to 200 in 2017, the bank’s 200th anniversary year.

But she said Orange residents were already well placed with educational opportunities, which would be a big piece in the puzzle as Orange looked to disversify its industries, but retained a “fantastic” economy and growing population.

“You’ve got the benefit of being in this beautiful part of the world ... but at the same time you’re relatively close to Sydney,” she said.

“There’s a real opportunity to focus on the educational elements and leverage on the talent this environment has around tourism, food, wine, hospitallity.

“Clearly there would be an opportunity around health as well.”

Mrs Kelly said the region was well served by Charles Sturt University and “fantastic” secondary schools and technology allowed regional areas easier access than ever.

“The knowledge economy can be conducted from anywhere, you don’t need to be in a city ... you can be ... using your innovation, imagination and creativity right here in Orange just as you can be in Sydney,” she said.

“Education is the single most important thing driving Australia’s future competitiveness as we are dealing with a strucutral shift in our economy ... and new technologies.

“I think we need to build new skillsets, new mindsets as we are engaging more and more with Asia.” 

Major banks now compete alongside increasing numbers of community-based credit unions and building societies.

But Mrs Kelly said in regional areas, more so than urban areas, Westpac was “running a bank for and with the community”.

clare.colley@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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