Central Coast Council, which has already seen the shutdown of more than 5,000 local businesses, has established a COVID-19 Economic Task Force to help the battered economy ride the pandemic.
With the local government area home to a range of vulnerable industries including construction, manufacturing, retail, hospitality and accommodation, business leaders fear the region could be hit harder than others.
Business NSW, Central Coast Industry Connect, Central Coast Food Alliance and Regional Development Australia (Central Coast) have joined forces with Council to assess the impact of COVID-19 and respond with initiatives aimed at stimulating investment, keeping jobs and helping businesses become resilient.
The task force has also set up an information portal where businesses can find local information and resources and submit questions.
Positioning businesses for recovery
Regional Director for Central Coast Business NSW, Paula Martin says although Central Coast has already seen upwards of 5,000 businesses close, it’s “miles ahead” of what is happening in other regions.
The task force is much about preparing for recovery as coping with the current crisis, she says.
Ms Martin says the three main objectives of the task force are to reduce any red tape to fast-track new projects, identify shovel-ready projects where funding can be accelerated and provide targeted local assistance.
“Overarching those three objectives we need to understand really quickly the nuances in our regions in terms of our industry sectors to get a grip on which industries are going to suffer the most and what we can do to quickly help rejuvenate those industries,” she told Government News.
“We need to prepare for a really strong economy on the other side.”
Another thing that’s being considered at a local level is matching people with certain skills to areas where labour is in demand, like health services.
“If you look at what you need to run a hospital you need to be able to feed people, you need orderlies,” Ms Martin says. “We’re not suggesting high knowledge jobs where you need a degree, but if you look at cafes and food producers, people can be redirected with a quick skill train."
Central Coast Council CEO, Gary Murphy says getting a handle on the unique issues facing Central Coast businesses is important to develop an effective response.
“Council are dedicating resources, and working with local business groups and government agencies, to develop custom initiatives to lessen the affect locally,” said.
“Central Coast Council is throwing the full weight of its economic development team to this central Task Force, so that we are collectively armed with the right information about the economic shocks to the Coast’s local businesses and can develop customised initiatives and support to help keep our local economy going.”
Business looks to local government
Central Coast Council has also introduced support packages for payment for businesses and residents who are experiencing hardship and has introduced measures.
These include waivers on fees for food licences and compliance for hairdressers, as well as leases on commercial and community council properties.
Council is also ensuring it uses local suppliers where possible for procurement, and has fast-tracked approval for registered businesses to be added to the list of approved suppliers.
Ms Martin says local government is more important than ever for the Central Coast at this time, which only has one council to support the third largest region in the state thanks to amalgamations.
“Our local businesses are turning to local council for guidance, for local stimulus, for assistance with red tape, to lift any fees that can be frozen during this time. It is playing a big role at the moment.”