The region welcomes the COVID re-opening plan but challenges remain. We spoke to Joe Townsend, Regional Manager for Business NSW in the northwest of the State, expected to be one of the first areas to have stay-at-home orders lifted.
What does the re-opening roadmap mean for small businesses in your region?
The announcement makes us feel that the hard work the region has done during the lockdown was worth it and now we can look forward to returning to a somewhat normal trading environment. We think we are well versed now in how to work flexibly around COVID restrictions.
Our visitor economy is vitally important to our small businesses. They rely heavily on people from elsewhere visiting friends and relatives in the region.
At the moment, we are sitting at about 50% of our usual business trade. Based on a survey we did, the impact of the Sydney lockdown alone and the lack of visitors from the city has resulted in a 37% reduction in trade.
I’m hoping for an improvement in the vaccination rate in our region. If we can have a regional vaccination rate higher than other regions it might be more attractive for people to come here.
We still do feel like we are on a bit of a knife edge though, with the potential for us to go into lockdown again if there is detection of COVID in a sewage plant. It would impact sentiment hard if we kept going into and out of lockdown.
What are some of the other challenges for small business in your region?
The impact of the border restrictions with Queensland and the different rules between States are still a challenge. I’ve had businesses in NSW that have lost their managers because in Queensland they are not deemed essential workers.
Staff shortages are still a big issue, particularly in hospitality. We are finding that with COVID, people are moving out of hospitality and into the aged care and allied health sectors because there is more job security.
The continual cycle of drought over the years has played heavily on our region. But agriculture has had a really great year this year and we are hoping to capitalise on that with the re-opening.
What advice would you give to small businesses about accessing the support that is available to them in NSW?
Many small businesses, I think, are confused about the difference between Jobsaver and Jobkeeper and are paying employee wages out of Jobsaver. They should understand that Jobsaver can be used to meet business expenses and stood down employees can instead access Federal Government disaster payments.
I also think that businesses are sometimes not asking for support and other help such as rent relief because it can involve difficult conversations, whether that’s with your bank, your suppliers or your landlord. Everyone finds that hard, but I’d encourage them to make that first step – you have to eat a bit of humble pie sometimes.