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Business Growth – Real Economic Development Action

Fifty new jobs will potentially be created or saved by the end of 2014 through a business growth and mentoring project initiated by Regional Development Australia–Northern Inland (RDANI). 

RDANI Chair Mal Peters said “small businesses and the jobs they create are the engine-room of our regional economy.  We need to implement programs which help local businesses prosper, grow and employ more people.  There is a pool of existing business talent within our region which can be nurtured to expand if provided with the right assistance.”

The RDANI business growth project interviewed 51 businesses in the region to learn about their willingness and ability to expand.  The project then sought to overcome the problems such as the inability to find sufficient skilled staff, especially trades-people and also the 20% increasing cost of staff, particularly in mining towns. Another challenge was the lack of affordable accommodation for employees in some locations impacted by mining expansion.

Agriculture as the major industry in our region also faces a shortage of available quality farm labour, changing freight models, with the loss of regional freight carriers due to a predominance of national retail chains and the growing use of national carriers.

“These findings are unlikely to surprise many of our business operators” said Mr Peters.  “It is well recognised that the mining boom and the growing dominance of national retail chains has changed the business landscape in many parts of regional Australia.  The question is how can we respond to it?”

The RDANI Business Growth Project engaged a successful and trusted business entrepreneur to mentor those businesses that demonstrated real growth potential.  He then  walked them through issues such as long-term goal setting; competitor analysis; credit policy and cash-flow; capital investment options such as purchase versus leasing; budgeting; using digital and social media to grow their markets; refreshing the businesses corporate image; identification of gaps in the market; new product development and business planning and risk reduction strategies.

“This type of one-on-one business mentoring has been used successfully in the United States, but is rare in Australia” said Mr Peters.  “Government programs which support Australian businesses tend to be less intensive and personal, such as one-day workshops on a particular topic for groups of businesses, or providing one-off capital support or tax-relief.  We wanted to pilot a more targeted approach where a well-respected mentor works closely with a business to earn their trust and improve specific aspects of the businesses which are stifling growth”.

RDANI aims to find the resources to expand the program and work with more businesses in the region to boost regional economic activity and employment.

Mr Peters said “We recognise that not all businesses want to expand, and that there are only a small percentage who have the capacity to grow significantly.  However, these are the businesses we want to find and assist.  We also need to find more trusted business mentors who can contribute to the initiative”.

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