COVID-19 has led international economic disaster on an unprecedented scale; sending viral disruption into supply chains globally and unravelling the economic fabric of the world as we knew it. But what has it really meant to North Queensland?
Throughout the 2020 pandemic, North Queensland has been fortunate enough to avoid the clusters and subsequent lockdown measures imposed upon our southern counterparts, but COVID-19 has still, most certainly left its mark on the region. Is it all bad news though? We spoke with two of Townsville’s thought leaders to identify the silver lining.
AEC’S Senior Economist, Jonathan Pavetto tells us that whilst COVID has had a devastating effect on key industries such as Tourism and Hospitality and Travel and logistics; it has also seen the Federal Government pump $320 million dollars into the local economy.
Jobkeeper and Jobseeker have enabled many families and industries to stay afloat and while the Government position on borrowing in this instance, is not reflective of their usual approach to accumulating deficit, Jonathon says that based on 2020 lending rates, there would not have been a better time to do it.
“Was it the right thing to do?” Jonathan muses “If businesses are open, it’s much easier to keep them trading, so in effect it has been a good thing.”
Jonathan goes on to say that we’re fortunate to be home to the third largest University in Australia, a significant Defence Hub and Health and Hospital system. Agriculture, mining and metals has still been in demand, so North Queensland has not experienced much of the shock felt elsewhere.
Real Estate has done very well, and construction hasn’t ceased. The activity in these sectors has fed the professional services fields so in essence, where some industries have nose-dived, others have continued to thrive.
This scenario has led to ‘success guilt’ for some who are doing well – especially when local counterparts in heavily restricted industries have, in some cases had catastrophic results.
“There has been a boom of enquiries into real estate in the North, because many people know now, that living like a battery hen in a metropolitan area is not a long-term proposition,” Jonathan says.
“At the peak of COVID, Bunnings couldn’t sell enough lettuces. Under lockdown or heavy restrictions, many people’s way of life has been challenged and they are rethinking their longer-term options.”
“At a local level, we are definitely seeing a return to fundamentals and that includes supporting local businesses for items that we may have been buying online.”
“That’s an absolute silver lining for North Queensland. But business owner or not, it’s definitely time for everyone to think about the day to day things that you need that you can either grow yourself or purchase from local businesses.”
Townsville Chamber of Commerce CEO, Ross McLennan says that with the Government funding opportunities made available in 2020, came a huge surge in car, caravan and motorbikes sales.
“International and national supply chains are under significant pressure in multiple areas”, says Ross.
“Coles for example, now has a million additional customers this Christmas because Australians won’t be travelling overseas for the 2020 festive season. And that’s just Coles.”
“Jobkeeper and Jobseeker have been a lifeline, but in some ways a double-edged sword,” continues Ross.
“Businesses have employment opportunities available, but there is a lack of people wanting to participate.
“Employers are trying to employ, but they either don’t have the candidates or they don’t have the right kind of candidates applying for available roles.”
With Jobkeeper being tested monthly now until it ceases in March 2021, it’s a good time for businesses still reliant on Government support, to plan the transition back to self-sufficiency. Cash flow is of course the key here and Jonathan says that it’s time to get back to the basics of marketing, branding, connecting with your customers; and wherever possible, supporting other local supply chains.
Both Jonathan and Ross suggest the Chamber of Commerce is a good place to start for business owners whose supply chains have been impacted or business mentorship is required.
“As supply chains start to change shape in line with a reduced reliance on import, now is the best time to refresh our business networks. Look for new, local suppliers to support your business and support theirs in return,” Ross says.
But Ross is also quick to remind us that we are only eight months into this pandemic. It’s not over yet – and it’s not going to go away, so we must learn to manage what we’ve got.
By Tracey Gordon