People Stories

Discover an Easier Life without Career Compromise in Central West NSW

Author: Careers at Council

Read time: 6 min read

Q&A with Jessica Wilkinson, Manager Economic Development – Bathurst Regional Council

From enjoying an easier life and in her most rewarding role, Jessica talks us through the career journey that led her back home to the Central West and an inspired career in local government. Read on and discover Jessica’s thoughts on the biggest misconception about a career in local government, and why she believes there’s no better place to live and work than the Central West.

Q. Can you talk us through the career path that led you to the Central West?

A. I grew up in Lithgow, just 40-50 minutes east of Bathurst. I left Lithgow at 18 to study at the University of Sydney, but I found that as living in Sydney was so expensive, I shifted to the University of Wollongong. Graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in economic development and management, I began my career in Sydney’s private property sector where I worked for 15 years, mostly as a Property Economist in the consulting space.

In the middle of the Global Financial Crisis, I left that role to join a start-up – everyone told me I was crazy, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The business grew quickly and I learnt so much. However, consulting is hard when you have young children, so I moved on and joined well-known construction property company Lendlease where I handled the research for the retail and urban renewal portfolios.

My husband and I had always talked about going home to the Central West and when the Manager – Economic Development role came up at Bathurst Regional Council, I applied for it and was successful. At the same time, an opportunity arose for my husband – so the stars really aligned for us.

Q. What surprised you the most about a career in local government after so long working in the private sector?

A. Moving to local government did seem like a massive change, but there were many skills that I was easily able to transfer over. Although I won’t lie, I know there’s still a lot I need to learn!

I think there is this common misconception that people who can’t get a job in the private sector go to the public sector. That is completely not true. All I’ve found since I have been here in Council is dedicated, super-smart people who work ridiculously hard for the region. They’re motivated by the fact that they’re achieving really good outcomes for their local community. It’s inspiring.

In so many ways, I’ve never been more challenged in my career than what I have been in this role. And it’s definitely never been more rewarding.

Q. Is that concept of giving back to the community important to you?

A. Yes, it absolutely is, it was part of the reason for coming home. I’d gained all of these incredible skills in the private sector. Being an idealist, I wanted to come back and use these skills to contribute to the community that had spent so much time raising me.

Q. What do you think would surprise people about the Central West Region?

A. The breadth of career opportunities that are available in the region would definitely surprise a lot of people. If you’re in IT, HR, Engineering – whatever it is, there are so many opportunities here, and a real skill shortage.

Socially, there’s something going on every single weekend. The Central West has large-scale events, like the winter festival. We have museums, art galleries, fabulous heritage, and natural wonders. We did more as a family in the first three months of moving back to the Central West with my kids, than we did in years living in Sydney. Everything is easy to access and you have the time and the energy to get involved.

I think there’s this idea that regional towns are boring – and they’re so far from it.

People would also be surprised just how much easier life is here. For me, going to work has gone from an hour and a half commute to five minutes. I can leave work at 4.00pm and pick up my kids at 4.10pm. Your friends are all close too, you can catch-up with people so easily.

I guess it’s a cliché – but the time back is immeasurable. The time I have back for my kids, for my health. I’m a full-time working Mum who never really had time to do anything for myself. My kids were always constantly saying we never see you, you’re always busy. We don’t get that anymore – they say they’re so much happier here in Bathurst.

And the other amazing things about living and working in the Central West is that you’re such a short drive from Sydney, Canberra and Wollongong. I can easily pop to Sydney for the weekend, or even a day to see my friends. You get the best of everything here in Bathurst.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your role?

A. In my role I work to attract new business to Bathurst to ensure our economy remains strong and diverse. I work on projects to provide the inspiration to encourage people to do what I just did – move to the region. And that’s easy because now I see Bathurst in this beautiful new light.

I provide business support to help businesses expand; providing networking events, workshops and helping them apply for grants.

And we’re also working on smart community projects. Essentially, ways that technology and data can improve the lives of our community; free public Wi-Fi, smart benches, smart LED lighting, smart water metres and other exciting projects. We have a commitment at council to lowering our environmental footprint and these projects are a vital part of that.

Q. What would a typical day look like?

A. There really is no such thing as a typical day in economic development, it’s so varied. This week alone I’ve gone from analysing the impacts of COVID on the Bathurst economy, to running a large-scale business event. I’ve had meetings with potential investors and the business community and will be running business workshops, and working on marketing material for the region.

This variety means you just learn so many skills – economic analysis, stakeholder engagement, marketing, presenting, public speaking. I just love it because every day is different.

Q. What challenges do you face in your role?

A. At the moment, there has been a big push for people and businesses to move to the regions so attracting people isn’t so hard. But the challenge is making sure there’s enough land zoned to accommodate these businesses and the right infrastructure to support them.

That also means ensuring there’s enough residential zoned land. We’re working with local developers to bring more supply to the market. Here at Bathurst, Economic Development sits within the Planning team which to me makes total sense as the two functions go hand in hand.

Q. How would you describe the workplace culture at Bathurst Regional Council?

A. Warm, friendly and supportive. You don’t have that same dog-eat-dog mentality that you can sometimes get in the private sector. That doesn’t mean we’re not all working incredibly hard and doing our best, but we’re doing it in a collaborative, team environment.

For me it’s been such a rewarding shift. You’re empowered to do the best for your community in a supportive and welcoming environment. Along with amazing training and development opportunities, Council supports flexibility which is so valuable as a full-time working Mum. Today I got in at 6.30am and I’ll leave at 3.00pm to pick my kids up by 3.10pm! You’re not going to get that in many places, and definitely not in the city.

If you’re ready for an easier life without comprising on your career, why not check out the amazing opportunities available right now in the Central West region of NSW

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