As councils and communities across the country grapple with the economic fallout of the pandemic, one council is delivering a solution to rebuild its local economy and sharing its new initiative with others to help them kickstart their own regions. Story by Meg Rawson.
The outlook for New Zealand in the coming months and years looks far from ideal. Already, reports of small businesses closing shop have surfaced, the tourism sector has taken a battering, and many are without a job, or are uncertain that they’ll still have one when the dust finally settles.
But, amid the grim economic predictions and uncertainty about life after the lockdown restrictions, the rural South Island communities of Mid Canterbury have banded together to fight for their future, with the help of a new and improved ‘shop local’ initiative.
Mid Canterbury, best known for its Mt Hutt ski fields, high country lakes, booming farming sector and, of course, ‘Ash-vegas’ has found a way to elevate the age-old adage and help residents to get their local economy back to its feet.
The campaign, ‘Mid Canterbury Open for Business’ encourages residents, where they can, to spend their money locally, helping local establishments to stay open and provide jobs.
Alongside a district-wide advertising and promotional drive, the campaign features a new, free online business directory (midcanopenforbiz.nz) to help people find which businesses are open, what they’re offering and any exciting specials or deals they are offering.
“Business owners have jumped at the opportunity to be listed on the new directory,” says Bevan Rickerby, the manager of Ashburton District Council Economic Development.
“The real beauty of the campaign is that it eases some of the financial pressure on businesses to advertise and re-establish themselves.
“Many have not been able to trade in over a month, so they haven’t got the cash-flow to run their marketing campaign and let customers know when they’re open.
“The Council runs the campaign, directs residents to the online resource and reinforces that vital message that Mid Canterbury business are open, they are ready to trade and it’s up to all of us to support local.”
The business directory is free to access, easy to navigate and businesses can edit their details as restrictions change and their services adapt.
Since launching on 23 April, the directory already has hundreds of registered local businesses and is helping residents to discover which of their favourite restaurants, retailers, trades people and service providers they can call on in their backyard.
To be included, the criteria are simple; the business must be located in Mid Canterbury and must have a physical base in the district.
Ashburton District Council chief executive Hamish Riach says the campaign was borne from the council’s concern over how its business community will recover from the havoc of economic shutdown.
“The transition from business-as-usual to virtually total shutdown was swift. Very early on in the lockdown, it became clear that our business community and consequently, local employment, was going to take a big hit, and something would need to be done to support our community through the recovery phase.
“Our councillors were keen to see something developed as well, and with this in mind, staff from our Economic Development and Communication teams established a simple, but effective, concept that has really got the district talking.”
Within a week, the teams had partnered with the council’s web developers – Squiz and built an engaging online business directory supported with a whole-of-district media campaign.
After launching near the end of April, word quickly spread about Mid Canterbury Open for Business and several other councils got in touch, enquiring about how they could replicate it in their regions.
Aoraki Development, which manages economic development activities for Timaru, Mackenzie, and Waimate District Councils, has already launched its own version of the same platform, South Canterbury Buy Local (buylocalsc.nz).
Together with Squiz, the Ashburton District Council has established Open for Business as an easily deployable product that can quickly be implemented in other districts, and Hamish says Ashburton is more than happy to share the campaign.
“One of the great things about local government is the camaraderie we share. It’s one of the few industries where the goal isn’t to guard your ideas from competitors.
“Many of us have benefited from other councils sharing their way of doing things, which in turns helps our communities to thrive even more.
“We want to pay it forward, so to speak, and have made it possible for Open for Business to be shared with others who might be interested.
“Economic instability right now is certainly not confined to our district, and we’re all looking for solutions to support our regions as best we can.”
The campaign can be deployed with a one-time initial setup cost to adapt the online directory for an area. Additional branding customisation to reflect each region is also available from Squiz.
Hamish adds that the appetite for supporting local business appears to already be on many New Zealanders’ minds, as the lockdowns force people to reassess how their spending habits affect local jobs.
“Covid-19 seems to have prompted a resurgence of the ‘shop local’ concept, and you only need to look at your social media feeds or see what some businesses and community groups are already doing to encourage people to buy local and help get through these tough times.
“By building on that organic momentum and providing an easy-to-use online directory, we’re helping to facilitate that shop local sentiment in our community and are giving residents the tools and encouragement, they need to help get our economy rolling again.”