Northern NSW needs a new prison but there are no plans to expand operations at Grafton jail.
Northern NSW needs a new prison but there are no plans to expand operations at Grafton jail. Jojo Newby

COMMENT: Research facility for jail just what Clarence needs

OPINION, Georja Ryan - The DEX deputy editor and digital producer

FINALLY, an idea that makes so much sense it hurts.

Turn the old Grafton jail into a research and development hub like a medical research centre.

I am screaming out bingo on this one, because Yamba business owner Peter Nicholson has hit this nail right on the head.

Imagine the jail - once it's free of prisoners of course - became an R&D centre. That's say 100-plus staff required to run the facility. Now we're talking highly-educated people with PHDs and degrees we struggle to pronounce.

READ MORE: Vision for Grafton jail could bring intergenerational change

Looking at our current population, a fair chunk of these people are probably going to come from out of town to work there. But before you throw your hands in the air and say 'well that's not local jobs', think about the bigger picture.

Highly-educated people earning say $200,000 a year, each with a family move to the Clarence. That's a hell of a lot of people spending money in town: kids going to local schools, wives and husbands entering the workforce, eating at cafes, shopping at local stores, buying houses, literally boosting business in every other sector in the region. It's the flow-on-effect. And this is what we need to be thinking about. Not piddly little short-term options.

Sure a hostel or museum would provide a handful of local jobs and some tourism for the region for a while, but those options look like baby steps next to something that would literally boost every sector in our region, attract the brightest of the bright academics, keep students closer to home if they are studying that field and set up a viable industry which will continue for decades and decades to come. Who knows - we could cure cancer here in the Clarence!

Mr Nicholson's idea echoes that of the Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy who this week has spoken about the country's need to bring those bigger businesses back to home soil.

Just two days after being named on Malcolm Turnbull's front bench, Mr Roy was in talks with Sam Chandler, chief executive of Nitro (competitor of Adobe).

Mr Roy said Mr Chandler wanted to move his business back to Australia from the US, but hasn't yet had the opportunity. Which is why Mr Roy says Australia needs to provide incentives for these major corporations to come back to the country.

Well, if it's a facility you are looking for, Mr Roy, yoo-hoo! We've got the perfect place right here in Grafton.

We need to stop thinking in the short-term, inside our own little boxes and think BIG. Think global. Think revolutionary.

The Clarence needs this. The country needs this.

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