October 19, 2021 | By Graeme Kemlo

Greater Shepparton, which endured an exceptional regional lockdown during Victoria’s current COVID-19 outbreak, had one third of its 67,000 population in isolation or quarantine.  And while it is regarded as the food bowl of Victoria, Shepparton suffered food shortages and even a McDonald’s shutdown.

Anthony Nicolaci, Manager of Economic Development for Greater Shepparton explained, “We were producing all the food but some of our large food manufacturers had over 100 employees out…and our local McDonald’s had to shut at 6pm because it did not have enough staff, which was a bit of a shock”.

“It was a really challenging time but thankfully we have come out of it strong in the last few weeks and we’re raring to go and ready for business,” he said.

In 2019, Shepparton welcomed 1.3 million visitors, up from about 600,000 a decade ago. Latest figures have dipped to just under 800,000. It has a strong business visitation market as part of its visitor economy, worth over $100 million a year.

The city has partnered with a range of organisations over the decade to develop its visitor economy, which is now regarded as an economic market alongside its horticulture and manufacturing sectors.

“We’ve seen visitor growth and that spend increase year-on-year for a number of years and it was really peaking well for 2019 and the start of 2020. It is going to be a lot of work to get that back up and growing but we’re up for the challenge for 2022,” says Nicolaci.

Anthony Nicolaci, who is also on the Board of Business Events Victoria is particularly excited by two new “game changing visitor experiences”.

Scheduled to open next month is the new $50 million Shepparton Art Museum (SAM), designed by international architects Denton Corker Marshall, who also designed the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre; and a $5.3 million expansion of the Museum of Vehicle Evolution (MOVE), a car, truck and transport museum for the region. Twenty-five percent of trucks registered in Victoria are from the Goulburn Valley, where Shepparton is located.

SAM is a five-storey building beside the city’s Victoria Park Lake which will also house the Kaiela Indigenous Arts Gallery, a relocated visitor centre and business events spaces including a rooftop terrace.

MOVE features a 16 screen 6m by 3m video wall, a conference/training room for 80 and room on the museum floor for events of up to 3,000 people, plus an a one-acre undercover outdoor space.

“We hope these new assets can help us rebound out of the pandemic really quickly and really build our brand and our reputation as a visitor destination, Nicolaci said.

“Business events is a really important part of our major events calendar and generates a significant amount [for] our region on a normal non-COVID year. It can equate to 40,000 attendees and we usually see 10,000 to 15,000 visitors just from specific larger conferences and expos, so it is generating anywhere from $4million to $6 million annually”.

With the new Victorian roadmap starting to open the state up, he says there’s a lot of optimism in the city, which does boast an international profile through its International Dairy Week, the third largest cattle expo in the world that’s been hosted annually in the region for the past 30 years.