A little over 12 months ago, there were major changes around the DWC Trustee table. The new line-up has self-reviewed and set new objectives that will make the organisation more accountable to the community. Chairperson Renee Rooney reports…

Over the past year at DWC, we have challenged ourselves to become a new customer-facing organisation and put enabling West Coast businesses to grow and thrive at the centre of all we do.

It is true actions speak louder than words. West Coasters want to see DWC make sound investments and distributions for the economic benefit of the region. Since the DWC’s establishment in 2001, there have been some commercial decisions made that have not paid off. In the space we operate in there is always a risk some distributions will fail. That comes with the territory.

What the new Trustees can do is ensure lessons are learned so mistakes are not repeated. We thoroughly review every investment or loan as it is closed – good or bad - so that we can all make better decisions in the future.

The Investment Fund is a very valuable asset for our region and West Coasters expect the Fund to be well managed. But the Trustees know that to be able to have the equivalent of at least $5 million available to distribute each year, we must keep the Fund growing by a minimum of the rate of inflation. If we don't, our ability to fund will erode quickly over time, particularly if our investment earnings fluctuate as they always can.

Many people do not realise that Trustees are governed by the Trust Deed. Having charitable status, it is vital any decisions made do not breach the terms of the Trust Deed. For example, we cannot fund infrastructure that would usually be the responsibility of local or central government, and any personal benefit derived by a customer must be an incidental outcome of a distribution. What we can do is provide commercial financing options so if you’re a business looking for expansion capital, working capital, venture funding, asset financing or property funding, DWC is here to assist.

Under our new strategy, the key focus of DWC is “Growing Business to Grow the Coast”. For DWC to meet your needs, it was vital that we gained a better appreciation of the barriers to growth that Coast businesses were facing. So we undertook a survey of local businesses to learn more about these barriers and other issues West Coast businesses face. You told us that the biggest issues were attracting new customers, the availability of skilled staff, and government compliance and regulations.

The survey has helped focus our organisation on services which will assist with breaking down these barriers to growth. If any company still wants to be part of the survey, so we can ensure we have identified the right issues, please contact us.

We are currently re-focussing our systems and people to ensure we put our customers first, that we are pro-active, that we can streamline application processes, and be more agile and efficient. In future, you can expect to see a much more pro-active DWC visit your business rather than you having to come to us.

But DWC must also respect the privacy and commercial sensitivity of our customers. Often customers do not want it known that they have received DWC assistance, so we cannot publicise it. The Deed was changed several years ago for this reason – publicity had been a barrier to potential applicants. When we hear through the media about parties who we were not able to assist with funding, we do not provide detailed responses or the reasons behind our decisions because we want to protect the commercial privacy of those applicants and not discourage future applicants. Expectations of transparency continues to be a hard nut to crack and we’ll keep working on this.

Our recently-released 2018 Annual Report revealed nine commercial finance distributions totalling $2.6 million. This was from 11 applications. Over the last five years DWC has approved 80 per cent of the applications it has received. Our aim now is to increase the number of applications received.

DWC also invested over $1m in other economic development projects and continues to provide $1.2 million to the district councils each year. The Annual Report showed operating expenses were consistent with previous years at $2.4 million, plus we re-invested in the growth of the base fund from which we derive our income, and which we must also protect for the benefit of future generations. The Annual Report has drawn some criticism, just as in previous years when we were criticised for investing too much in commercial distributions or for the Trust Investment Fund not performing as well as it could.

DWC accepts that there is no keeping everyone happy but there is, of course, a story behind the numbers, and I am personally committed to communicating better what we do and how we do it.

DWC is an integral part of the Provincial Growth Fund process here on the West Coast. People may not realise that the PGF is limited to capital expenditure so DWC is ready to partner with successful PGF applications through co-investment or other options to strengthen the chances of success long-term.

The prudent management of the Trust Fund over the past years has positioned DWC to take advantage of the opportunities the PGF will bring. Our ongoing practice of re-investing a share of our core Fund can now translate into something substantial for the West Coast. DWC acknowledges if ever there was a time to leverage the Fund, it is now, and we are open for business and ready to listen. We’re looking for game-changers and we hope our business community will come to us with its best ideas.

If DWC can’t help directly, we’ll do everything we can to help you find an avenue that can. We’re committed to ongoing improvement. Every application will be dealt with promptly and fairly.

The majority of Tourism West Coast’s marketing is funded by DWC. This year we offered to help secure TWC’s future funding and move away from ad hoc applications with little future planning. At present, when it comes to TWC, we may or may not be able to fund their needs because we’re committed to investing in, and supporting, a wide range of sectors. We want to enable and facilitate the growth of our region in many ways.

Despite our new focus being on enabling businesses to grow, DWC will not forget our community groups and organisations who are such an essential part of our West Coast fabric.

The West Coast region needs to be attractive for people to live in, work in, play in, invest in and raise families in. We know that actions speak louder than words, and we expect our community to hold us accountable when they give us our report card in 12 months’ time.

Renee Rooney
Chair – Development West Coast