An ice-cream factory will stand down 240 workers in Lismore next month – including 44 who lost their homes in floods earlier this year – unless government support is extended.
Michael Hampson, the chief executive of Norco, the factory operator, said the decision came in the absence of further details of any federal assistance and confirmation the state government would not contribute to any further support package.
The current recovery funding package runs out on 15 July.
The ice-cream factory run by Norco, a northern New South Wales farmer-owned dairy cooperative, has been in Lismore for more than 100 years and was one of the many businesses devastated by the catastrophic floods earlier in the year.
“As terrible as this sounds, we will need to stand down 240 people, of which 44 of those people lost their homes, their cars, every single possession, in the flood,” Hampson told reporters on Wednesday.
“We cannot afford to keep paying 240 people unless we’re making product we can sell to customers.”
Hampson called on either the state or federal government – “we don’t care which one, we’re not fussy” – to raise the $44m Anchor Business Support Grant Program to $100m.
“Behind all these businesses are people. Real people that have real lives and need real help and support, and right now we need the governments to help and stand up,” he said.
The federal emergency management minister, Murray Watt, said the government was committed to helping the region recover and his department had been asked to “work closely with Norco and other local firms to support their rebuilding”.
“I have fast-tracked grants processes since becoming minister less than one month ago,” Watt said.
“Grant applications are now open and money will start flowing to businesses as soon as possible.”
Sarah Moran has fears for her brother, who is among those workers who has lost their home and has been trying to rebuild.
“In two weeks he stops being paid, with no visible timeline for a return to work. It’s not like he can get a job somewhere else because every other business has also been decimated,” Moran said.
Psychologically losing your job on top of your home will have an outstanding impact on the mental health individually and collectively on this flood-fected region.
“Norco is the beating heart of Lismore. Psychologically, if Norco can’t win, Lismore loses hope.”
Moran said governments would be to blame if the workers ended up relying on Centrelink payments for income.
Alongside Hampson, the heads of three other major employers in the region – Summerland Credit Union, Mountain Blue Farms and Sunshine Sugar – appeared at Wednesday’s press conference, as well as the Lismore mayor, Steve Krieg.
Summerland’s chief executive, John Williams, said current funding packages “are not enough to support major businesses nor for the full economic recovery of Lismore”.
Williams said Lismore’s CBD was effectively uninsurable from a business perspective and called on governments to fully fund the economic recovery of Lismore.
Krieg urged the governments to think about the long-term future of Lismore.
“These are the businesses we need to make sure people can get back on their feet, keep their staff in their jobs, so Lismore can regrow and rebuild to the standard in which we deserve it to [be],” Krieg said.
“I shudder to think of a Lismore without Norco.”
Hampson said Lismore had an “ecosystem” of interconnected businesses, using the example of Sunshine Sugar, whose products were used at the ice-cream factory, which supported local cane growers.
A NSW government spokesperson said applications for the Anchor Business Support Grant Program has just opened.
“The NSW government has committed to topping up the fund by contributing $15m to support large businesses in the northern rivers,” the spokesperson said.
“More than $3.5bn has already been committed by the NSW and Australian governments in flood clean-up and recovery.”