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Main street hub plan for businesses

The Margaret River Chamber of Commerce is looking to develop a dedicated main street office to support traders and operators in the community still reeling from the disruption of COVID-19.

The proposal emerged from the not-for-profit group’s recent survey of members, which looked at ways to guide businesses through the economic downturn as well as the disruption of major projects like the main street redevelopment.

Executive officer Annie McFie said the chamber initially wanted to develop an online toolkit to help traders, but soon realised many were severely under the pump and ill-equipped to deal with multiple State, Federal and private sector bureaucracies.

“The chamber became increasingly concerned by the number of businesses that did not have access to basic business resources or a reliable internet connection,” Ms McFie said.

“We recorded a number of businesses that are running their operations from a smartphone only.”

The chamber was hard at work liaising with support agencies, including Business Advisory South West, which is backed by the State Government’s Small Business Development Corporation, and could offer some resources.

The chamber’s survey results showed a strong interest from members in the hub proposal.

Services could potentially include grant application help, web design and social media guidance, business planning, bookkeeping, e-commerce, and brand development.

An influx of new members also saw needs identified for training and business support programs, Ms McFie said.

“With the recent Government grants aimed at the construction industry, it is paramount that our local businesses are able to compete with other construction companies to attract building contracts and stimulate our local economy,” she said.

The dedicated business centre would offer “urgent and substantive support” to local businesses during the economic recovery.

The hub could be established in a vacant main street tenancy and act as a central office for the Shire-backed Local Is More campaign.

“We would aim to initiate shop local vouchers, marketing material and provide a central space to promote local business,” Ms McFie said.

“The business centre would also provide advice, and assist with negotiations for incubator leases in empty main street shopfronts.”

This year’s annual Business Excellence Awards would also be set aside, with existing sponsors instead asked to help get the hub up and running.

The chamber business survey produced two main findings, with 41 per cent of operators reporting business was “good” or had grown during the pandemic (16 per cent), while 31 per cent suffered a downturn or remained closed (12 per cent).

Shire corporate and community services director James Shepherd said no decision was made regarding the Local Is More office proposal, but “the Shire continues to work with the chamber on ways in which to support local traders”.

Business Advisory South West did not respond to inquiries prior to deadline.

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