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Now is the time to think ahead

In the December edition of the Business Quarterly I wrote how the region was in a good economic space, but that businesses should keep one eye on the horizon. Well who would have predicted that since then, the Covid-19 coronavirus has sent ripples of economic disruption around the globe. Locally things have also changed, particularly if you are involved in forestry and related industries.

The disruption to the supply chain of logs exported from our region to China has caused logging crews to be laid off or worker numbers reduced. This flows through to logging truck operators, maintenance companies, engineering companies and all their associated suppliers.

I am aware of some companies that are already hearing “I can't afford to pay you that invoice”. This is never a good sign and I suspect there will be many awkward conversations like that happening around town at the moment and in the coming weeks. It is tragic as so much of this is outside our control. The families of the employees and business owners will be hit the hardest.

We are fortunate our community can respond in a co-ordinated manner. Mayor Rehette Stoltz must be congratulated for co-ordinating a local response and support amongst the key stakeholders and decision-makers, and also for lobbying central government for further assistance. In addition, a “wellness centre” for affected forestry crew and contractors has been set up by Wade Brunt of Jogging for Logging. This is a great initiative to provide much-needed support — physically and emotionally — through this incredibly tough time for the industry. Eastland Group, Ngati Porou Holdings, Trust Tairawhiti and Gisborne District Council all came to the party quickly with funds to help make this a reality.

Covid-19 is already a significant issue for our community. However, in the spirt of “keeping one eye on the horizon”, this is a time for businesses to think about what they can do if things get worse — globally and locally.

Talk to your trusted advisers and/or the bank about the situation and the “what if” scenarios. Think about whether your business is the sort of business where staff could work from home for a period of time. What would it take to do that? Think about handwashing and hygiene facilities at work, and talking to staff about not coming to work if they are feeling sick, so they don't infect others. It is important not to overreact but now is the time to think ahead, just in case.

The Chamber of Commerce undertook a recent poll (not scientific at all) of some of its members. Half of approximately 50 respondents said that Covid-19 and the associated impact on the forestry industry was going to have a negative impact on their business. This is significant and I think this will play out over the coming months in our community. The chamber will be holding its networking events and we encourage business people to come along and talk to others about this and other issues.

■ This month we continue our member-only monthly networking evenings at Peppers Beachfront, including presentations from business members on topics of interest.

Later this month, chamber members are invited to a Business After 5 (BA5) event at Te Puni Kokiri to meet the team and hear what is happening in their space. It will also be a chance to meet with other agencies in the premises.

In partnership with Industry Training Solutions, we are pleased to bring a mix of workshops in leadership, customer service and licence controller certification, with a discounted rate for chamber members. The first workshop is on March 31. Visit our Gisborne Chamber website to register: www.gisborne.org.nz

Our chamber AGM is on Wednesday, April 29, from 5.30pm at Waikanae SLSC.

■ Paul Naske is president of Gisborne Chamber of Commerce

Paul Naske