The state’s peak business organisation, Business NSW, says confidence is returning, but lockdowns and border closures are continuing to present challenges.
Jane Laverty is the Northern Rivers Regional Manager for Business NSW.
She says feedback from businesses across the region over the past week suggests their main focus is on consolidation, along with the need to provide sharper business product and service offerings which can withstand change.
One ongoing challenge for the sector is workforce development, with a much greater focus on attracting skilled staff and/or investing in developing existing staff. Business also say local councils need to champion economic development activity.
This includes township revitalisation, and enabling housing that is affordable for workers, with many staff who are renting in the region saying they are feeling vulnerable.
Turning the corner
‘In our December Business Conditions Survey, NSW businesses told us they were turning the corner following the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ said Jane Laverty.
‘The survey, conducted right across NSW, shows that business confidence was positive for the first time since June 2018, however much of the survey was completed prior to the Christmas lockdowns.
‘What this survey clearly shows is the resilience and optimism amongst the business community in NSW,’ said Ms Laverty.
‘The NSW Government has done a good job in listening to business needs and responding as soon as possible by easing restrictions and opening up communities.
‘However, since the survey results were finalised, we’ve heard from business owners on the Northern Beaches and in border communities about how quickly confidence can be eroded with swift decisions like lockdowns and border closures.’
First quarter crucial
‘The first quarter of this calendar year will be crucial for many businesses as a number of Government support packages are also reduced or come to an end,’ said Ms Laverty.
Despite overall increases in confidence, 23 per cent of businesses surveyed claim they are at a high risk of failure when supports such as JobKeeper, tax relief, interest waivers and other measures conclude.
Jane Laverty said this vulnerability will hang over the small business sector for much of 2021, and will need to be factored into decisions about withdrawing support measures.
‘The other clear signal from our survey is that an increasing number of businesses are looking to expand their capacity to meet demand, with more businesses prioritising expansion than planning to downsize their business,’ she said.