Sweeter Times Ahead For Norco & Lismore, As Ice Cream Factory Rebuild Is Confirmed

Dual funding and co-op investment secures Lismore factory future, offering sprinkle of hope to a community still in need of further support.

Norco, Australia’s oldest and largest dairy co-operative, has today announced long awaited and much hoped for plans to rebuild its heritage listed, Lismore ice cream factory that was left devastated and out of commission following the February floods.

As a major anchor business in the Northern Rivers region, the announcement is welcomed news not just for the dairy co-operative and its workforce, but also the many small and medium businesses that rely on its operation to drive economic activity – something that is especially critical as the region works to rebuild following the unprecedented natural disaster.

The factory rebuild is supported by a $34.7 million grant from the Federal and NSW State Government’s Anchor Business Support Program, and bolstered by an $11 million grant that remains outstanding from the 2019 Regional Growth Fund (RGF); a program that was delayed due to COVID-19 and then paused following the floods.

In addition, to bring the project to life Norco’s co-contribution will be over $59 million (under the Anchor Business Support Grant guidelines), an investment that the 100% farmer owned co-operative said was important to make in order to safeguard the factory’s future for its workforce, and to keep supporting the broader Lismore community.

Norco Chief Executive, Michael Hampson comments that it’s an exciting day for Norco and its farmer members, and an incredibly rewarding outcome given the positive impact the rebuild will have on the Lismore recovery efforts.

“We know how important this factory and its operations are to this region and we’ve always been committed to do everything we can, within our means, to see a future for the facility.

“While we’re extremely grateful for the government funding we’ve been allocated, it is known that it fell short of what we needed for a complete rebuild – and this is because of the scale of damage incurred and the total cost of the floods to the co-operative which is still estimated to be well over $100 million with this revised project.

“Ideally, in order to employ as many local people as possible, we’d be rebuilding a facility to the same scale as what we were working towards with the previous upgrade (pre-floods). However to fit budgetary constraints, we’ve have had to make some changes to the rebuild plan.

“The revised plan will see a different sort of facility being rebuilt and to make this possible, Norco will be taking on a greater level of risk – something we’re prepared to do in order to safeguard jobs, support other small and medium businesses in region, and offer a sense of hope to a community of people who have already endured so much,” he says.

Hampson adds that because of this, the 100% farmer owned co-operative is calling on the community for their continued support.

“Our farmers are always incredibly grateful when people choose to buy Norco products,” he says.

“And all we ask is that they continue to do so – especially our great tasting milk products and Hinterland ice cream – with the knowledge that they’re supporting a network of hardworking farmers in their efforts to support their local community.”

A rebuild celebrated by workers and farmers Trent Dobrunz was nearing ten years at the Norco ice cream factory before the floods ravaged the facility leaving it non-operational.

“I’ve loved working for Norco and have certainly appreciated all their efforts in fighting for the factory’s future and for our workforce – efforts that saw us continue to be paid for seven months following the floods, despite the factory not operating,” he said.

“I’m excited by news of the rebuild, and I can’t wait to come back to work when construction is complete and operations are back in full swing. This will be a great day for ice cream factory employees and will send much-needed positive signals right through the Lismore community,” he adds.

Warren Gallagher, a third generation Norco dairy farmer and Northern Rivers resident acknowledges how important this event is for the co-operative’s members and for the dairy industry as a whole.

“It’s no secret that the past few years have been incredibly difficult for dairy farmers, especially the recent period of unprecedented wet weather, and every bit of good news helps keep us motivated to continue doing what we all love doing,” said Mr Gallagher.

“At Norco, we are one big family, and a stronger Norco means a stronger dairy industry in Australia – particularly due the co-op’s ability to help drive improved farmgate milk pricing. This helps not just Norco members, but all dairy farmers and is also incredibly important for the future of the Australian
dairy industry.

“The Norco ice cream factory is a Lismore institution, so we’re thrilled to see it survive and to be able to play a part in continuing to deliver great tasting ice cream to consumers,” he said.

A business community still in need of support Michael Hampson cautions that while today marks a memorable milestone for Norco and the Lismore community, it’s important not to forget the many other small and medium businesses that remain in need of support.

“Today represents a very positive step forward for the ongoing, Lismore recovery efforts. By reestablishing operations, Norco will resume a significant amount of activity that will benefit the local community, and we hope this gives smaller businesses and employers like cafes, restaurants, and motels the confidence to rebuild – but they’re certainly going to need greater support to do so.

While Hampson acknowledges the positive impact the Government’s $60 million Anchor Package funding will have on the community, he also says that the co-operative will continue to advocate for greater financial support for other businesses in region.

“Norco has been part of the Lismore community for more than 127 years and it’s great that we can now set our sights on the next 127 years of co-op success,” he says.

“But beyond this, we also want to see the Northern Rivers business community thriving once again and this can only happen with greater financial support from both the state and federal governments – because jobs, livelihoods and the future of Lismore depends on it,” he concludes.