Look Before You Leap
By Katie McKone
One simple and pertinent message is being conveyed to Christchurch businesses – look before you leap.
As garages around the city turn into makeshift offices and boardroom meetings are held in suburban lounges, people are realising it is time to utilise all networks and take a new approach to survive. Yet an element of panic and desperation is also evident as many start to consider what their futures may hold.
Canterbury spokesperson for the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Marty Braithwaite is among those urging businesses to hold off on making any hasty decisions around redundancies and closures. “We are already aware of employers who decided, in the wake of the earthquake, to abandon businesses but have since reassessed and have now determined that they will be able to continue to operate — albeit in a changed manner.
“People’s initial reaction is to understandably think the worst, but wait until you are well and truly informed about what is happening.”
Small business owner Matthew Carpenter is choosing to remain positive despite the current situation, firmly stating he will not be abandoning the city. “I have a fundamental belief in Christchurch and its future. If we all shut up shop, what are we going to be left with?
“This is where I have set up business and I don’t think it necessary to walk away from something that I have established over the last 10 to 15 years.”
Owner of whiteware company Cares Appliances, Carpenter operates from three different locations. While awaiting an engineering report on his Fitzgerald Ave premises, things are up and running elsewhere. “We are currently working through the issues as they present themselves, which I think is the most positive course of action at the moment.
“Everyone is going hand to mouth, and people are understandably running a bit scared. With time that hysteria will fade I am sure.”
As leader of action group Canterbury Business Recovery Network, Carpenter is also at the forefront of promoting a raft of new initiatives surrounding the rebuild process.
Treasury is estimating the cost of the earthquake to be in the vicinity of $10 billion to $15 billion, two to three times the anticipated $5 billion from September 4.
Some 600 to 900 buildings may have to be demolished in Christchurch’s central business district, each and every one representing a different story and livelihood.
Businesses are subsequently left in a state of limbo, with the most pertinent of questions still going unanswered — where to from here?
The city is still very much in survival mode, believes Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (CECC) chief executive Peter Townsend. “There are some big decisions to be made, and the general realisation now is that businesses are not going back to where they came from.”
The next logical step was to find alternative premises, a process proving to be no easy feat with increasing demand and exorbitant rental prices hindering progress.
Yet there were still opportunities to be had, claims Townsend.
“There are options, and there is still a lot of surplus office space within many buildings so we are actively working on making that available.”
The CECC has set up a system whereby it is matching available accommodation with what is required. Online auction site Trade Me is operating a similar service.
Morale is being boosted as a direct result of gaining access to vital equipment such as computers and files from damaged premises.
Civil Defence is starting to allow restricted access to some buildings within the red zone, however businesses have to register before gaining confirmation.
All is not lost in Christchurch. Rebuilding a shattered city will take considerable time and resources, but out of the rubble new opportunities will begin to emerge.
“Christchurch is not going to simply disappear, and it is going to continue to need business,” says Braithwaite, adding that the long term vitality of the region is vital. “There is going to be a demand for huge amounts of infrastructure when the rebuild does start which will also create new prospects.”
Phil Welsh, owner of outsourcing business Smart Christchurch South, believes gains can be made from specialising in specific areas and working with partner businesses. The future will be a key factor in the way businesses operate says Welsh, adding it is too early to make any definite assumptions. “Businesses may potentially become more community-based and decentralisation will create a whole range of opportunities.
“These are all possibilities, but I think we’ll also see collective groups of businesses getting together to negotiate things like new premises deals with developers, and there’ll be a whole lot more work to do in areas of property investment and syndication.”
One thing remains clear — the Garden City will not look like it did in the past. “It will have a new shape, new look and a new culture,” says Townsend. “We will move into the next 150 years looking back on the last 150 years.”