TIMELINE: How Ballina Shire has changed in 30 years
BYRON Bay's quiet cousin, the Ballina Shire, was the best kept holiday secret for travellers about 30 years ago.
Now, the region holds its own on the tourism stage, with more than $3 billion of development approved in the past three decades.
Ballina's biggest builds in that time were overseen by Ballina Shire Council's former group manager of development Rod Willis, who retired late last week after more than 30 years at the helm.
Mr Willis was one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the Ballina-Byron Airport, widely exposing the region to tourism and business opportunities.
The council's general manager, Paul Hickey, said Mr Willis also played a central role in the airport's initial construction by heading the development assessment for the facility.
As Ballina grew as a holiday destination, so too did investment in major tourism facilities, such as the five-star accommodation Riverside apartments (formerly the Ramada) and the new Ramada Hotel in Martin St.
The highlights of Mr Willis' career capture a historical snapshot of how the shire has grown with its population nearly doubling since Mr Willis started at the council in 1986 from 24,409 to about 42,626.
On Mr Willis' watch, the release of land paired with planning and infrastructure works drove at least 12 residential developments throughout the shire from Alstonville to Lennox Head.
Some of those major estates include Riveroaks and Ferngrove at Cumbalum as well as the Lennox Palms and Pacific Pines, Lennox Head.
He was also part of guiding growth in the region's retail sector with the establishment of major shopping centres including Ballina Fair and Ballina Central.
Mr Hickey thanked Mr Willis for his "input and oversight" that "has helped shape the shire we have today".
"Councillors and staff wish Rod a long, healthy and happy retirement," Mr Hickey said.