An Australian farmer-owned dairy co-operative is rebuilding an ice cream factory in Lismore after the town was hit by record flooding.
Norco suffered losses of $142 million after February floods ravaged the northern region of New South Wales, with 150 employees also quitting.
The federal government has offered financial support to get the struggling company – Lismore’s largest private employer – back on its feet in 2023.
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“The government has put $34.9 million into the anchor business support program, which is fantastic,” Norco CEO Michael Hampson said.
Hampson said the impact of the natural disaster was far worse than he could have ever imagined, but he hopes Norco can bring the town back to life as it continues to recover.
“I think what happened was something that nobody expected, that nobody planned,” Hampson said.
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“We knew we were going to have a flood, but no one knew we were going to have a record 14.4 meter wall of water rolling down the valley.”
Norco’s general manager of operations said plans have been put in place to mitigate damage to the property.
“We had taken all the engines out of the way,” said Adrian Kings.
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“We had personnel here all night ready to defend.
“We had anti-flood valves on the front.”
Despite their best efforts, the workers were helpless against the power of the oncoming water.
“It was something you see on TV when a tornado crosses America,” Kings said.
Worker Glenn Mackintosh compared the destruction to that of a war zone.
“You can’t believe the power of water,” Mackintosh said.
“You walk in and you see things that weigh tons in addition to other things.”
Norco’s resurrection is a lifeline for hundreds of its employees who lost their jobs when the plant went bankrupt.
Attention now turns to waterproofing the premises for the future.
“We breed a lot of stuff,” Hampson said.
“Things we can’t lift will be based on quick release mechanisms and mezzanine areas.”
Mackintosh said adaptability is crucial to the long-term success of Norco and the town of Lismore.
“You can’t all hide and run away,” he said.
“We have to solve the problem and work with nature.”
Hampson said improving structural work now will go a long way towards building a stronger and more resilient Lismore – before the next inevitable flood.
“We are confident that we will be able to defend against a flood of the magnitude we experienced at this site,” Hampson said.
“We’ll be down for a few weeks while we clean up, but we won’t be down.”
The reopening of Norco is a relief for the 220 farmers who make up the cooperative.
Lismore dairy farmer Andrew Wilson suffered a $300,000 hit when his farm went bankrupt.
“We couldn’t milk,” Wilson said.
We had to completely skip two milkings because we had to remove the engines from the dairy because the water was up to my hip.”
The factory has been one of the co-op’s greatest assets and she hopes it will be again.
“It means a lot to us,” Wilson said.
“We pool all our milk so we can go to market and try to get better prices for farmers.”
Now Wilson hopes other businesses in the city will gain the confidence to rebuild and receive their own funding.
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