Good support, structures key to regional rebuild

Good support, structures key to regional rebuild

Agribusiness
NEXT STEP: While tourism and accommodation have been some of the hardest hit industries in regional SA, Kelly Kuhn, Juggle House Experiences, pictured with her touring bus at Monarto Zoo, says the support - from industry, RDA and the general public - has been a massive help as she looks to rebuild.

NEXT STEP: While tourism and accommodation have been some of the hardest hit industries in regional SA, Kelly Kuhn, Juggle House Experiences, pictured with her touring bus at Monarto Zoo, says the support - from industry, RDA and the general public - has been a massive help as she looks to rebuild.

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WHILE key industries in the state's regions have been hit hard by COVID-19, representatives from various Regional Development Australia boards say there is a strong foundation to recover and rebuild.

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WHILE key industries in the state's regions have been hit hard by COVID-19, representatives from various Regional Development Australia boards say there is a strong foundation to recover and rebuild.

Data from the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research estimates the state gross product dropped by 9.9 per cent in the last quarter of 2019-20, with the worst impact in metropolitan areas, but the regions have not been left unscathed. The Murraylands and Riverland region's gross product was estimated to decrease by 7pc to July, the Eyre Peninsula by 8.7pc and the Limestone Coast by 8.1pc.

There is some variance in the hardest-hit industries across different regions, but there are also common themes. Employees in the accommodation and food service sectors were the worst affected, while retail and education and training have also been severely impacted.

While almost all industries, including agriculture, have experienced a downturn in some form, statistics from RDA Murraylands and Riverland show two fields experienced an upturn - healthcare and social assistance, and information media and telecommunications, as more people work from home.

Overall, the RDAMR found the unemployment rate rose 4.6pc, or 9.3pc including those on the JobKeeper program.

RDAMR has been working on a number of initiatives to support local businesses, including a viral video showcasing local businesses, entitled #WeAreHere, and specialised free business training to help upskill small business owners, with their programs gaining praise from Regional Development and Territories Assistant Minister Nola Marino.

RDAEP statistics show a 5.9pc lift in unemployment, or nearly 1500 jobs lost (11.2pc with JobKeeper).

The public is, Ministers are, but the public servants that usually travel a lot to regions are still very thin on the ground. - DION DORWARD

RDAEP CEO Dion Dorward said the region was also struggling with drought in many areas, while export industries, such as fisheries, were still dealing with the fall-out of reduced flights for their product to reach international markets.

But he said there were also "bright lights", with some major multi-million-dollar projects planned for the region, such as ports, a desalinisation plant and the Southern Launch Space Project.

Mr Dorward said while local tourism had been hit hard initially, trade had improved since early June, with some of the best winter figures they had seen. But he said government agencies needed to be on the ground.

"The public is, Ministers are, but the public servants that usually travel a lot to regions are still very thin on the ground," he said. "They are important to our visitor economy."

RDA Far North CEO Claire Wiseman said employment had fallen by 3pc, including in mining, after drought already put pressure on agricultural and service provider businesses.

The initial COVID-19 restrictions, coming at the start of the peak tourism season, resulted in up to 95pc revenue lost overnight for some businesses, but Ms Wiseman said most adapted quickly.

"The tourism season is in full swing with intrastate marketing campaigns launched and some businesses are experiencing their busiest months yet," she said. "The biggest challenges facing tourism businesses is trying to find staff to meet the growing demand.

"Generally, business confidence is positive, with many undertaking major marketing campaigns and focusing on how they can adapt their businesses to suit operational changes."

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Prior to the pandemic, RDA Limestone Coast had been set for growth of $700 million a year and an extra 5700 jobs by 2026. Instead they lost 2000 jobs - a drop of 6.1pc (10.9pc with JobKeeper).

RDALC CEO David Wheaton said the area had an export-led economy, reliant on agriculture, forestry and fishing, which made it susceptible to global shocks, such as COVID-19.

He said forestry, which represented 35pc of the region's workforce, would be particularly important in guiding the pace and depth of economic recovery.

RDALC has introduced a number of initiatives, including digital training for regional businesses to access skills and knowledge to operate in an online world; an online jobs board; and an Expert Connection program, which allows small businesses to access up to three hours of free professional advice from a range of services, including financial, marketing, graphic design and more, which is due to launch this month.

The biggest challenges facing tourism businesses is trying to find staff to meet the growing demand. - CLAIRE WISEMAN

"Economic recovery from COVID-19 will relate to new opportunities and as well as the enduring competitiveness of the region's agriculture, forestry and fishing foundations," he said.

REFINED FOCUS: Kerry and Simon Meares, Coonawarra Experiences, are preparing new packages to meet SA tourism demand.

REFINED FOCUS: Kerry and Simon Meares, Coonawarra Experiences, are preparing new packages to meet SA tourism demand.

Coonawarra Experiences' Kerry Meares says there have been more positives in recent months, particularly from SA locals looking to explore their own state.

She said having more tourists in the region had flow-on effects, through meals in pubs and more spending in the local economy.

She said government bodies, such as the SA Tourism Commission and RDALC, had been helpful in bouncing ideas and discussing the support available, as well as helping them with grants to improve their digital space.

Ms Meares said there needed to be a shift in their marketing and approach, as local visitors sought something different than interstate visitors. They have also forged new partnerships and expanded packages in new areas, such as the Wrattonbully wine region.

In the past few months, I've seen an increase in consumer confidence. - KELLY KUHN

While RDA Yorke and Mid North had a 4pc lift in unemployment, there are still businesses needing workers, prompting it to launch a Job Match initiative, connecting displaced workers to sectors in need.

It has worked to buoy the retail sector, alongside local councils, with an online marketplace called Yorke Peninsula Shopping, as well as offering businesses free consultations to gain key skills.

RDAYMN CEO Kelly-Anne Saffin said this was a long-term situation, with support required for years to come.

"Even though we have all been affected by the pandemic, the innovation and resourcefulness of businesses and communities has been astounding," she said.

Murraylands boutique touring and accommodation operator Kelly Kuhn, Juggle House Experiences, said the COVID-19 impact - taking out 60pc of her trade between March and July - came on the back of bushfires initially hurting 80pc.

She said almost overnight a large part of her business, which involved connecting international tourists on houseboats to land-based attractions, was wiped out, requiring some fast thinking to recover

But while the past few months have been a "roller coaster", she said support from RDAMR and tourism industry leaders was vital in helping her rebuild.

She has used some of this time to upgrade her tour bus, formed connections with potential business partners and created new packages to suit the present clientele.

She says local SA customers have been very loyal and supportive, which has kept her going.

Ms Kuhn had also previously benefited from RDA's Business to Business program, and found it was able to assist her again during COVID-19, with access to risk management advice and financial planning.

"To have somebody help you, one-on-one, with your business is a big advantage," she said.

"The uncertainty at the beginning was very crippling.

"In the past few months, I've seen an increase in consumer confidence."

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