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Reach out for help; we will recover

Paul Naske
by Paul Naske, Gisborne Chamber of Commerce president

Most of the small and medium businesses of Tairawhiti have probably never had such a kick in the guts as the one Covid-19 delivered. I’m confident though that business owners will adapt, pivot, strive, push, walk or crawl to get back on their feet, because that is what they have to do and have done before.

Covid-19 has hit our regional team of 40,000 hard; some more than others of course. We know unemployment will rise in our region and now is the time to work together harder and smarter than before. All the key influencer groups of the community, including Gisborne District Council, Trust Tairawhiti, Iwi and Manaaki Tairawhiti, need to work closer than ever to make a tangible, pronounced difference, and the Chamber of Commerce looks forward to being involved in this process for our members.

Everyone in the community will probably have opinions about what should and should not be done for a “recovery plan”: should we spend money on a green recovery, water infrastructure, transformational projects, CBD development, training programmes etc. etc? Instead of the chamber putting forward our opinion on what the council or Govt should spend money on (green infrastructure by the way, if you want to know), there are two key messages we would like to communicate right now.

Message No.1 to business owners — Don’t do it alone

Within another regional chamber network in the North Island, an observation was made following the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Looking back on that recession years later, the chamber office came to a stark realisation that the level of suicides amongst business owners had increased in their community during this period. Now, this was not scientific or a systematic review, but the correlation was apparent nonetheless. It is a sobering reflection at this time and is now very relevant as we are on the cusp of a similar recessionary period.

We know it can be tough being a business owner at the best of times, with all the associated stress of keeping staff on track, bills paid, cash flowing, customers and the bank happy, and generally keeping the wolves at bay. It is without a doubt worse when the future is uncertain and times are tough, ie now. We know that for the foreseeable future times will be stressful for business owners and I implore you that if you are finding it tough, please reach out to someone and talk. Do not suffer alone.

Behind each business is an owner and perhaps staff and perhaps families, and in some cases all are doing it tough right now. The business owners are probably putting on a brave face and smiling because that is what you “have to do”. But behind it all they are having to pay staff, rent and suppliers before they pay themselves to put groceries on the table at home.

If you are struggling, please reach out and talk to someone — friends, family, advisers or the Chamber of Commerce and we will try to put you in touch with someone who can help or at least listen. There are resources available; Trust Tairawhiti, the Regional Business Partner and Business Mentor programmes, to name a few.

Don’t suffer or struggle alone, get some advice or just have a chat. We are all in this together.

Message No.2 — the only way is up, baby

While times are tough right now, I believe we will look back and think that Tairawhiti came through this period much better than other parts of the country. We are currently in the valley of economic uncertainty, but we will climb out; Tairawhiti has done it before and we will do it again, and it is important to know that we will recover at some point.

We need to have a degree of optimism about the future, not just for mental health, but for economic health. If we are fearful of the future we will tighten the reigns and restrict our spending, which will in turn lead to less economic activity, more uncertainty and so on.

If instead we look at the fact that our community has a significant portion of our economy in food production (horticulture and agriculture), that forestry is flowing again and our exposure to international tourism was, and is, very limited, you can take the view that actually we will be OK and we can get through this. And with a seemingly inevitable spending on infrastructure and projects, and enhanced re-training programmes, there will be opportunities for individuals and businesses.

I am in no way saying that it is not tough for some individuals and businesses, but I am saying that we must stay optimistic — pessimism is a sure-fire way to stay in the valley longer. My key message here is to those in the community who can spend, please do so and spend locally. These are the people who are in your community, who support your clubs and participate in your life. If you do get an invoice from them; don’t pay on time, pay early if you can. This may be the difference between them paying their staff or not. As they say, Tatau Tatau, or the other popular phrase, Cash is King.

What business owners can do

• Don’t do it alone — reach out to us or

others; don’t stress on this alone. It is tough

and we know it. We will find help for you.

• Stay optimistic, look to the future. We will

get out of the valley.

What we can all do for businesses

• Buy it local where you can.

• Pay your bills early — give them a break,

give them cash.

• Be optimistic and not fearful.

What Council can do

• Listen to the business community.

• Review and make the Tairawhiti Resource

Management Plan fit for purpose, asap

• Reduce development contributions

for two years to spark development.

• Prioritise infrastructure that will improve

our environment and secure our future.

• Procure locally where you can — modify

the Procurement Policy to help achieve this.

• Utilise the assets of GHL to enable key

infrastructure spending.

■ Paul Naske is president of Gisborne Chamber of Commerce