We welcome Cabinet’s decision to move the country down to Alert Level 2. The PM has announced that most businesses will be able to operate again on Thursday 14 May, with the exception of bars which cannot open until 21 May.

Our cafes, restaurants, retailers, hairdressers and those in our tourism industry – many of whom have not been able to operate under Alert Level 3, will now be able to open on Thursday with social distancing and strict hygiene protocols in place.

This has been an unprecedented time. I know this is becoming a worn-out phrase, but it is important to acknowledge just how challenging it has been for everyone, particularly those in our business community.

We are already seeing businesses on the Coast having to make the difficult decision to close shop.

The unfortunate reality is not every business will be able to survive the impact of COVID-19. This is no reflection on the business owners and their staff, how hard they have worked or how sound their business ideas have been – sometimes unforeseen circumstances ruin even the best laid plans.

The current situation is already having a significant impact on employment on the Coast. The latest figures from MSD show there has been an increase of 268 people registered for Jobseeker support since the start of the year. 7.5% of our working age population are now receiving a benefit - up 1.4% from the start of the year. 

Unfortunately, these numbers are likely to worsen once the Government’s 12-week wage subsidy scheme runs out, and businesses take a hard look at their long-term viability and decide whether they can continue or will have to close either temporarily or permanently. Next week’s budget may provide some additional government support for small businesses to mitigate this.

These difficult decisions will be unavoidable for some. To help businesses through this process, we recently hosted a webinar with a panel of experts on how to put your business into hibernation. We will be holding a similar webinar in a couple of weeks to help inform people on best practices for mothballing their business and how they can utilise the Government’s debt hibernation scheme.

While it is tough to see businesses going through such challenges, we are also seeing innovative Coasters adapting to the situation and working to support each other. 

Just last week PM Ardern highlighted West Coast initiatives and collaboration in her ‘Kiwi ingenuity’ spotlight.

We have seen Coast businesses pivoting their production lines to meet new demands, such as producing hand sanitiser and protective face shields. 

And we have also seen many of our cafes, restaurants and retailers adapting to the regulations required to operate under Level 3 - from businesses quickly setting up ecommerce stores to a takeaway shop serving customers through a cat door. There has been a lot of Coast ingenuity on display.

These businesses are the heart and soul of our communities. To help them adapt to the changing environment and the additional costs it brings with it, DWC set up a Delivery Rebate Scheme – it’s not too late to apply. And if your business needs any help setting up an ecommerce store, we encourage you to get in contact with us.

To help promote businesses who are back operating we have worked with EPIC Westport and Tai Poutini Polytechnic to set up an online directory showcasing Coast businesses. The response to this has been fantastic with over 240 businesses already registered on www.nowopen.co.nz.

We are also running a ‘Keep it Coastal, Support Local’ campaign to encourage Coasters to shop locally and support one another. This includes a number of great ‘book now, do later’ deals. We also have a ‘Book a Best Coast Holiday’ campaign ready to launch once New Zealand shifts to Alert Level 2.

DWC is leading an Economic Recovery Steering Group, chaired by Rob Caldwell, with Iwi, DOC, the Provincial Development Unit, TPP and the Regional Council. The group is meeting regularly to look at the key COVID-19 related economic issues affecting our region, coordinating West Coast recovery needs, and working on a further package to take to Government.

As a subgroup of this, a Tourism Recovery Group has also been set up to work on transforming our tourism industry for a post COVID-19 environment. The West Coast tourism industry will likely to be much smaller for some time, but hopefully better and more robust. This group includes representatives from across the region and is working on developing a West Coast destination management plan, as well as a short term promotional campaign to showcase the fantastic West Coast attractions to the domestic market.

This has been an immensely challenging time for everyone. But it has been incredibly heartening to see Coasters supporting each other through it all. We look forward to the beginning of a shift to Level 2 on Thursday and seeing more of our businesses able to operate again.

Heath Milne
Development West Coast | Chief Executive