Stick together, support CBD businesses

GROWING PAINS: "Let’s walk that extra block past the hoardings ... and put our hands in our pockets and some money through those empty tills to help businesses."
GROWING PAINS: "Let’s walk that extra block past the hoardings ... and put our hands in our pockets and some money through those empty tills to help businesses."

WE’LL all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “before the year is out.” (Thank you, poet - P.J. Hartigan). We’re hearing a lot of that around town at the moment – roadworks, deliveries, construction, Supercars, power costs, lost trees. And more, more.

Some businesses are doing it tough while the city gets dragged through this period of growing pains. Newcastle Now, like the council, Urban Growth, Transport NSW and others, is doing its best behind the scenes to cut down the disruption that comes with change.

But there’s no doubt –  it’s a nuisance.

For some businesses, it’s more than a nuisance and we really need to do more to help them keep their heads above water.

Leonie Pearson in The Conversation (June 26, 2017) reported that ‘city population size does not determine economic performance’ and that contrary to popular opinion, regional cities generate national economic growth and jobs at pretty much the same rate as metropolitan cities.

However, she counsels, immediate action is needed if that is to continue. And that action must build on existing strengths and capabilities.

It seems that Australia’s economy is turning to the service industries, with growth concentrated in what is called ‘new economy’ industries - finance, education, health and professional services. Regional cities already produce more output in these industries than they did in the old ones of agriculture, mining and manufacturing that we used to rely on in the Hunter. The change is happening quickly and it will mean a large number of jobs will be affected.

(There are some interesting numbers in the Regional Australia Institute’s (RAI) Data Tool at regionalaustralia.org.au. It’s good bedtime reading.)

It is quite worrying that while Greater Newcastle has, in the past, outpaced the field in these new industries, the projections are not good. RAI has relegated us to the ‘slipping’ category.

As Pearson says, we need to take immediate action.

Some of that action is already happening. In the CBD it seems that we face 18 months of disruption to business while people build the essential infrastructure we need for the next stage of growth. Our streets will be a mess of road works, while rail lines and new power, lighting and water systems are installed, block by block.

While that is happening there will be hoardings, detours, and men and women in orange shirts all over the place.

The impact on some businesses will be as devastating as a big fire or flood, but they will have little recourse to insurance while the banks, landlords and everyone else still expect them to pay their bills on time. How do you cope if your income just stops for six months? That’s a jaw-dropping thought.

RAI urges us to build on our strengths and capabilities. We’ve always had the reputation of being a strong community. So, let’s think about those people who are taking one for the team as the city builds a new future. To loosely quote a Shakespearean line, “What is the city but the people?” 

So, let’s walk that extra block past the hoardings and people in orange shirts, and put our hands in our pockets and some money through those empty tills to help businesses through the crisis.

If we can’t stick together and do this little thing for our neighbours when they hit hard times, then, in the long run, we may indeed ‘all be rooned’.

Edward Duc is chairperson of Newcastle Now