What impact did the recent flooding event have on Norco’s Lismore operations?
Our entire Lismore operations were significantly impacted by the recent flooding event, with extensive damage and repairs required across our Head Office, our heritage listed ice cream facility, five Norco Rural Stores, and our Lismore Mill.
Not including the cost of repair and rebuild, we estimate a business cost of $20 million in terms of lost ingredients, stock, machinery and other inventory. We also sadly lost our entire archives which captured the rich history and heritage of Norco.
Our ice cream facility remains non-operational, as does our Head Office, however we are pleased to report that our Rural Stores and Mill are back in business.
Specifically, what impact did it have on the ice cream factory?
Our heritage listed Norco Lismore ice cream factory was inundated with flood water and suffered extensive damage, the value of which we estimate to be in the vicinity of $60-$70 million to rebuild.
Since then, our teams have been working tirelessly on the rebuild and recovery efforts, and we remain committed to seeing the facility in full operation once again.
However, we do anticipate it will be at least 6 months before we could recommence operations, post receiving government funding and support, the details of which are unclear at present.
Have the floods impacted milk supply?
Fortunately, our milk facilities are still operational and were not directly impacted by the floods.
However, the persistent wet weather that occurred through autumn has resulted in reduced milk supply on farm resulting in some short-term supply issues. As the winter months have been drier, milk supply is improving so can consistently continue providing our fresh and great tasting, 100% farmer owned dairy products to our customers.
What impact did the floods have on farmers?
We are proud to be Australia’s oldest and largest, 100% farmer owned dairy co-operative. Sadly, 51 of the 199 farms that make up our co-operative were flood affected with the damage bill running in excess of $15m. 24% of theses farmers were severely impacted in terms of their ability to produce, due to damage to dairy machinery, pastures, herd losses not to mention the emotional toll.
The road to recovery will be a long one for everyone, however the best way people can show their support is to simply buy Norco, with the knowledge that every single cent goes back to helping our farmers rebuild and recover.
Has Norco received any government funding as a result of the Lismore floods?
As part of the Anchor Business Support Package, Norco has received funding that covered workforce costs for our ice cream factory employees.
We are extremely grateful for this support which has included the payment of salaries and wages, including casual employees over a 16-week period – however that funding is due to expire on July 15.
Why did Norco receive this funding so quickly?
Norco is a 100% farmer owned, dairy cooperative and given the level of damage to our ice cream facility, we knew very early on that we would need government support in order to recover and safeguard jobs.
For this reason, we moved very quickly in having conversations with key decision makers in government, and we appreciate the support to date which has offered financial and emotional peace of mind to a community of people during exceptionally difficult times.
How was this funding utilised?
The initial funding received has kept the Lismore ice cream factory workforce gainfully employed for a period of 16 weeks since the floods took place.
During this time and as part of the funding, Norco employees have made a significant contribution to the Lismore clean up and rebuild efforts, with teams dispersed across the ice cream factory, local farms and the wider community.
Community organisations our workforce has supported include Orange Sky Laundry, Thread Together, Lifeline, Blaze Aid, Global Care, Resilient Lismore, Koori Mail and Natro Shield.
Why does the funding only extend to 16 weeks?
Norco received this funding as part of the initial phases of the Anchor Business Support Package announced by the Coalition shortly after the floods took place, however this allocation of funding is due to expire on July 15.
Since then, formal guidelines for this support package have been released and we are awaiting further information on how to actually apply for additional funds from this program.
We continue to actively engage both levels of government, advocating for greater support for the entire Lismore business community. We’re also seeking further information around this funding so as we can provide greater clarity and certainty to our people, our farmers, our customers and the many small to medium business that also rely on our operations.
Why was this funding so important?
Norco has been part of the fabric of the Northern Rivers community for more than 127 years and we take our role within the community very seriously.
With a workforce of approximately 240 at the ice cream facility alone, we are proud to be one of the biggest employers in the region. Keeping these jobs in the community supports the many small to medium businesses that rely on the economic contribution our business and employees makes to the wider community of Lismore.
This initial funding offered both financial and emotional peace of mind to a community of people who had already endured so much, and we are thankful to the government in helping us facilitate this during a very difficult time for our business and the wider community.
What is the future of the Norco Lismore ice cream factory?
We are optimistic about the prospect of rebuilding our ice cream facility. However, doing so does rely on government support and funding, and we remain committed to working with both the State and Federal governments to facilitate this rebuild, which would offer great benefits not just to Norco staff, but the broader Lismore community.
Will the ice cream factory workforce be stood down from their jobs?
Unfortunately, unless further funding is forthcoming, all staff at Norco’s Lismore ice cream facility will be stood down from their jobs from July 15 when the current funding ends, something we have been working tirelessly to avoid since the floods first took place.
While this is an extremely difficult business decision, it’s one our 100% farmer-owned cooperative has been forced to make, given that our farmer members simply don’t have the means to cover workforce costs while there is no commercial output from the facility.
Have staff been informed of this?
Even when we haven’t had all of the information or answers, we have been wholly committed to being as transparent as possible with impacted staff following the devastating flooding event.
As part of this commitment, all Norco ice cream factory staff were informed of the possibility of stand down at a town hall meeting on Wednesday, May 25, if no further government funding was forthcoming.
While the message was not a desirable one, we felt it was important to provide a level of certainty and clarity to staff with the information we had available, to enable them to make informed decisions about their future and that of their families.
Should this transpire, it will be a very sad day for Norco and the entire Lismore community. We’ve been part of the community for 127 years and many of our staff have enjoyed long tenure with the business, which is why we’re fighting so hard for our people, our farmers and the wider Lismore community.
What support has been offered to ice cream factory employees?
Since the floods took place, Norco has worked tirelessly to support its staff and provide a level of certainty during extraordinarily uncertain times. Having also been part of the fabric of the Northern Rivers community for more than 127 years, we take our role in the community very seriously.
Firstly, we established a Go Fund Me page to raise funds for impacted employees and farmers and are proud to have raised $109,794.15 as at 28th June 22; 100% of which has been directly distributed to those in need to support the rebuild and recovery process.
We have also proactively engaged with other local and industry businesses to identify alternative employment opportunities and presented these options to staff; efforts that not only provide employment prospects to our workforce, but also provide support to businesses in the region who have been struggling with workforce shortages following the floods.
In addition, where there have been requests for relocation that align with relevant job openings, we have facilitated this within the business, while following all other HR best practice protocol around workforce support including training, CV and job seeking assistance, as well as additional apprentice support to ensure skills and training are maintained.
Is the Anchor Business Support package enough to support major Lismore businesses?
The current funding being offered as part of this bespoke package is $44.3 million for all major businesses affected by the floods. Given Norco’s rebuild cost alone is in the vicinity of $60-$70 million, and given we are one of many businesses hurting following the floods, this just simply isn’t enough.
However, this funding is not just about Norco, as there are other major businesses in region also relying on this support to rebuild and recover, something that is critical to the broader economic recovery of the town of Lismore.
Many businesses are aligned on the position that the current level of funding being proposed is simply not enough to support the needs of all major businesses, nor the wider Lismore business community.
We also believe there should be greater assistance for other businesses that fall outside the guidelines of ‘Anchor Business’ but have also suffered significant damage and loss.
What has Norco done to advocate for greater funding and support from government?
We believe that the recovery of the Lismore CBD and the future economic prosperity of the region will be businesses-led, and so we continue to advocate strongly not just for the needs of Norco, but the entire Lismore business community.
As such, we recently led a coalition of major Lismore businesses, uniting in a call for greater support from both levels of government, to help safeguard jobs and ensure the survival of the Lismore economic community.
With a 127-year heritage in region, we take our role in the community and its rebuild very seriously, so will continue to fight as hard as we possibly can, not just for the people of Norco, but for the entire Lismore community.