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Milestone investment for regional development

14 September 2001 |Media centre

Lismore-based land management firm Aspect North will take on a new equity partner in a first for regional development in Australia.

The regional development fund of Sandhurst Trustees, a Bendigo Bank subsidiary, will inject up to $2 million into Aspect North to enable the company to create up to 50 new jobs as it expands and takes advantage of lucrative export contracts for its mapping division and other areas of its business.

The initiative, announced today by NSW Regional Development Minister Harry Woods, marks the first time retail superannuation investors have been able to invest in an unlisted regionally-based company.

"Sandhurst Regional Development Fund No.1" will become an equity partner with Aspect North and will provide a new director, Gordon McKern, for the company's board. Mr McKern is chairman of Sandhurst Trustees, which manages the fund.

"The investment we are announcing today marks a watershed for investment in regional Australia," Mr McKern said.

"We estimate that less than one per cent of the $500 billion held by superannuation funds is invested in regional companies. There has simply been no mechanism by which funds can invest in unlisted companies.

"Bendigo Bank has now created a mechanism through Sandhurst Trustees and this investment and level of inquiry is proof that there are investment opportunities out there for investors looking to invest in quality regional companies with sound track records and good growth prospects.

"Regional Australians invest billions of dollars in superannuation, effectively to finance the development of capital cities. This is the first small step in the process of reversing that capital drain."

Aspect North managing partner Tony Hart said the firm, which resulted from the merger of four Lismore companies, was delighted to have found an equity partner committed to the development of regional Australia.

"We currently employ 65 people here in Lismore and this injection of capital will enable us to expand jobs and grow the wealth of our region."

Mr Hart said Aspect North undertook a wide range of work including satellite and conventional mapping, surveying, engineering and town planning. "We also provide developers with environmental and archaeological expertise to ensure development is balanced and sustainable.

"Our work is at the cutting edge of technology and we have excellent prospects of expanding our export activities, however, we still acknowledge the key to our success is good old-fashioned service."

Recently the company was chosen by the United States' National Imagery and Mapping Agency to map parts of Papua New Guinea for the Australian Defence Forces and Chile for the New Zealand Defence Forces.

"We are also doing consultancy work for the Casuarina Beach development south of Tweed Heads, together with major surveying work for the Abi Group in the freeway construction from Yelgun to Chinderah."

Mr McKern said Sandhurst Trustees had been introduced to Aspect North during a regional development tour organised by the NSW State & Regional Development Department.

"There are many challenges need to be overcome in order to bring investors and regional companies together and initiatives such as these tours are making a valuable contribution."

Mr McKern said the fund continued working with a number of other companies in various Australian regions.

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