On any given morning around 7am, Justin Cleary can most likely be found behind the counter of his service station and café serving a long queue of customers in high-vis vests.
His business is Rochester Caltex on High St, and the customers more often than not are contractors, machine operators and field staff on their way to work.
Mr Cleary and his wife Rachel have run the family business for 16 years – developing the site from a “rundown old shed with a couple of fuel pumps” to the busy hub it is today.
“The business has been growing,” he said, and attributes some of this to flow-on effects of the Connections Project, which has heavily invested in the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District to modernise irrigation infrastructure in northern Victoria.
This year alone, the Connections Project is spending $100 million on Winter Works which, in turn is providing local employment and business opportunities.
“Instead of having a normal winter cycle, where we might see a slide down, it has levelled out. We’ve had increased trade through the normal winter lull,” Mr Cleary said.
“The people coming through are contractors, a range of truck drivers, construction workers and business people – it’s been anyone involved in the Connections Project.
“They come in for coffee, a breakfast roll and fuel.”
He said business had been steady for several years and the fact that work is carried out year-round was also great.
“The project has been very beneficial while it’s been going.”
One of Mr Cleary’s current staff members, Rebekah Charlton, recently moved to Rochester from the Northern Territory.
“She came down with her partner and he got a job with a local construction firm. I’ve employed her here,” he said.
“He’s also joined the local footy team.
“It’s a prime example of how this investment is bringing people to the area and how our communities are benefitting.
“And it’s not just here – it’s created a lot of employment. I often see jobs advertised for construction workers and machine operators,” Mr Cleary said.
Connections Project Director Frank Fisseler said it was fantastic to see flow-on effects of the Connections Project having a tangible effect on communities and businesses.
“Our work this winter is seeing 35km of new pipeline at seven sites, remediation of 33km of channel at 17 sites and channel automation at more than 270 sites.”
Minister for Water Lisa Neville said the $2 billion Connections Project is not only delivering benefits to the region’s economy but is also creating a sustainable future for productive agriculture in northern Victoria.
“The scale of this investment is creating employment benefits and numerous opportunities for farming enterprises, communities and businesses in the region.”