How much damage has the economy incurred and how do we lessen the impact?
The Alert Level 4 and subsequent lockdowns were a public health necessity for New Zealand, there’s no doubt about that.
Looking abroad at countries fraught with COVID-19 – from over 1.8 million cases and well over 100,000 deaths in the United States, to Sweden (often compared with New Zealand’s Covid response due to the similar size) with over 40,000 cases and close to 5,000 deaths – Kiwis across the board are proud of the Government’s response.
Now that we haven’t had community transmission in over a month, we’ve moved to Alert Level 1—which is essentially life pre-Covid with strict measures around the border.
The question on everyone’s lips now is what happens next? How much damage has the economy incurred and how do we lessen the impact of that damage?
The economic landscape in Canterbury
Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (CECC) believes the next step for our response is ensuring the Government – both local and national – create a robust economic recovery framework and a new vision for our city and region.
Chief executive Leeann Watson talks about how COVID-19 has been a catalyst for business to make changes, that could be the difference between businesses not only surviving, but thriving.
Leeann is the CEO of the Chamber and spent 12 months in 2018/19 as a member of the Government’s Small Business Council. She is also a director of Canterbury Cricket Association and is the Chair of the Board of Trustees for Christchurch Boys’ High School.
Leeann says, “Protecting the livelihoods of our community was the right thing to do. While we move through the alert levels, we need to start also focusing on protecting the livelihoods of our businesses and the people that they employ.
“There’s going to have to be a lot of support for some time to come for those sectors that continue to be significantly impacted, until we start to reopen our borders. In particular there is a lot of work to be done on how the tourism sector will get through this and how the sector will reposition itself for the future.”
According to ChristchurchNZ, an economic development and city profile agency, tourism brought $4.9 billion into the region in 2019, supporting 8,800 businesses and almost 70,000 jobs.
Both the tourism and hospitality sectors have been hit hard by Covid, especially with the borders shut to international tourists that generate a direct annual contribution to GDP of $16.2 billion, according to Tourism Industry Aotearoa.
Global Financial Crisis vs. COVID-19
People are comparing the economic fallout from COVID-19 to the Global Financial Crisis, but Leeann sees key differences in how it will play out in terms of recovery.
“One of the biggest differences between the Global Financial Crisis and Covid is Covid is something that has affected everyone across our community,” Leeann says. “This is also not just New Zealand facing the impacts of Covid. The impacts of Covid are global which affects key parts of our supply chain.”
This has been a chance for businesses to look inward when they can’t get a product from certain markets and say, “What’s the alternative?”
One of the solutions is looking for New Zealand companies to supply similar if not better products right here on our own shores. China continues to be an important relationship for New Zealand, but the ability to pivot and start business to business relationships with fellow Kiwis would certainly help our local economy.
“That’s one thing that I really hope we continue to look at and not just go back to our old ways of doing things.
“We must use this as an opportunity to create new habits, and to ensure that we take on-board the learnings from this situation,” Leeann says.
The Covid catalyst
One of the outcomes that’s come from forcing everyone to move into lockdown is that businesses have had little to no choice but to embrace technology.
From moving staff from in-office to remote working, along with full IT capabilities, to migrating sales to an e-commerce platform, businesses across the country and the globe are adapting to survive.
We have seen our business community rise to the challenge of adversity once more. There are many innovative examples such as redeployment of staff across different sectors and across different businesses to fill increased demands in retail stores such as supermarkets, and businesses pivoting to manufacture PPE gear.
“What people have learnt and what organisations have achieved during lockdown is moving us forward, transforming the way we operate and making us more productive, so we hope that businesses will continue to embrace these changes.
“We’ve definitely seen businesses use more online tools to extend their reach, to increase their visibility and their customers through the use of technology which is the future of work.”
The Chamber: Here to support the community
Like many other organisations, The Chamber moved their 34 staff to operate remotely and ran their first webinar within 24 hours. Having the right technology and using lessons learned through previous adversity we have faced in this city, The Chamber set their operation up remotely seamlessly.
“The Chamber team has really stepped up and gone above and beyond to make sure the business community is well-supported. We’ve engaged with over 10,000 businesses through our Helpline, our communications and through the online platforms that we’ve been using,” Leeann says.
One of the biggest challenges for businesses during normal times is how much information is thrown at them on a regular basis. With the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and private citizens alike have been bombarded with information that has been at times, frankly, overwhelming.
The Chamber has set up a COVID-19 Business helpline to help guide businesses through the process, acting as a safe pair of hands, as well as a trusted advisor. The helpline won’t just point you to a website – those manning the Helpline will provide you with tailored support specific to your business situation, help you navigate the various support packages and send you specific, relevant information according to your needs. This includes referrals across the many different external organisations that are helping businesses here in Canterbury.
Christchurch: City of resilience once again
It’s hard to look at the upside of tragedy, but Christchurch has had its fair share of it in recent years. From the 2011 earthquakes to the mosque shootings, and now with COVID-19 ravaging the world, Christchurch is well-used to adversity.
Kiwi businesses are renowned for being tough, with a can-do attitude and a pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality. However, it’ll take more than that to weather out the storm, especially at the predicted 200,000 jobs lost throughout New Zealand over the next two years.
“We have a really resilient business community. Reaching out for help and getting help early is really important. This will make the difference between businesses just surviving and thriving.
“Often, people leave it too late, and decisions can be different if they get the support they need early,” Leeann says.
One of the biggest ways people can support their communities is by purchasing local. Going out for a meal with your family and buying products from your local retailers are a few ways to help out.
Other things that will make a huge difference to our local economy is opening up our borders, even if it is staggered.
For example, international students bring in $5.1 billion per year to New Zealand, coming in fifth place as New Zealand’s biggest export.
With talks of the trans-Tasman bubble in the making between Australia and New Zealand, bringing in our Australian counterparts can help buoy the tourism and hospitality sector.
“Local business provides the livelihood of our communities and we all have a part to play to ensure they are supported to continue to provide the livelihoods of our people,” Leeann says.
“It’s not just up to the Government, the council, the Ministry of Health. It’s up to all of us to support local business and be proud of what we’ve done in this city, and we can all play a part in protecting our retaining our local business community.
“What we know is when we lose businesses out of our community, it’s really hard to get them back. A lot of these businesses have been around for a really hard time, and we owe it to them to keep them around for a very, very long time to come.”
CECC Business Helpline: 0800 50 50 96.
By Claire Wright