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Byron Shire
June 20, 2024

The two-tier economy

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Have you tried to get a tradie recently?

How about booking your car in for a service, or hiring a removalist that can fit you in before Christmas?

If you’ve tried calling any of these local businesses recently, you’ve probably discovered that demand for basic services like these is majorly outstripping supply.

Welcome to the north coast’s two-speed economy.

While the local retail sector struggles under the dual pressures of rising interest rates and the increased cost of living, industries involved in providing basic, grass roots services are booming.    

Many tradies have waiting periods of two months for an average-sized job, while some, such as carpenters and tilers, are almost impossible to get, unless you’re willing to pay a premium.

The average wait to book your car in for a service in the Shire is two-to-four weeks, and if you’re moving house within the local area you’ll want to plan at least eight weeks ahead.

A series of interviews conducted by The Echo with experts and those working in these industries suggest the boom and consequent shortages in these industries are the outcome of multiple factors.

They include the increase in demand for the building industry brought about by the 2022 floods, and the mass migration to the Northern Rivers during covid.

At the same time, there is a critical shortage of workers in some of these areas, particularly in the trades sector.  

Jason Bentley, from the Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce, said the region was ‘definitely seeing different industries at different levels.’

‘The trade sector is going gang busters. Some are struggling to keep up with demand.

‘But at the same time, others are having to close down their operations or move out of the area.’

Jane Laverty, President of the Northern Rivers chapter of Business NSW, said businesses in the region typically fell into one of three lanes: those that were really struggling, those who were hanging in there, and those who were seeing ongoing very high demand.

Golden triangle

‘All of these businesses are facing what I call the golden triangle, which is housing, staffing and skills,’ she said.

‘These are the three biggest challenges that pretty much everyone is facing’. 

‘Even those businesses that are doing well are facing the challenges of finding skilled staff who can actually afford to live in the area.’

These comments are backed up by the experience of local business owners like plasterer, Rob ‘Tymbomb’ Tyman, whose business Tyman Plastery has been in hot demand for nearly three years.

‘I’ve basically been flat out since covid started, but even busier since the floods,’ Mr Tyman said.

‘It’s owing to people leaving the cities and moving here… People buying homes, renovating them. But of course, since the floods, there’s a lot of repair work coming in.’

The experience of local mechanics contacted by The Echo suggests that population growth has played a significant role in the boom, along with the challenges that workers face in finding affordable housing.

‘We’ve been absolutely flat out,’ said Jason Torresi, from Main Arm Mechanical.

‘It’s a bit over a month to get in for a service. It’s been like that for most of the year.

‘I’m not sure why – maybe more people coming to the area and less mechanics?’ 

‘I think it’s a bit broader than just us, though. I think a lot of people are having a similar experience’.

Tech start-ups 

Despite the two-speed nature of the local economy, the region, and Byron in particular, remains a focal point for entrepreneurialism.

‘Byron is a big start-up hub,’ Mr Bentley said.

‘It’s one of the fastest growing start-up areas in NSW’. 

There’s a lot of tech start-ups that have a need for IT infrastructure and people as well. 

‘That’s really a focus for us in terms of the future. We’ve got the new [TAFE] technology hub coming in.

‘There’s a real opportunity for people with those skills in the area.’


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1 COMMENT

  1. It’s the Byron Bubble.
    Ballina has tradies available and you can get a car serviced in a few days. Shops are busy and the infrastructure is great.

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