Boost for businesses as pandemic takes toll

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Chamber of Commerce president Melissa d'Ath and executive officer Annie McFie are about to release more details on a fightback plan for local businesses.
Camera IconChamber of Commerce president Melissa d'Ath and executive officer Annie McFie are about to release more details on a fightback plan for local businesses. Credit: Warren Hately

The Margaret River Chamber of Commerce has pledged to support local businesses as the pandemic continues to bite.

More details on the Make It Local plan to help traders during the main street redevelopment — now fast-tracked by the Shire — will be released next week.

Meanwhile, ratepayer funding from the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River’s community care fund would underwrite free chamber memberships for businesses wanting to benefit from networking, advice, and a number of incoming State and Federal support programs.

The WA Government this week also released funding between $5000 and $25,000 to help non-members access support from regional chambers Statewide.

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Chamber chief executive Annie McFie told the Times many operators were caught off-guard by the pandemic’s economic damage and needed help.

“Many businesses are unsure on these aspects of the changing landscape of loosening of social distancing measures,” she said.

“The Margaret River region has taken one of the hardest economic hits in regional WA.

“Our reliance on tourism-related products and services means COVID-19 and its fallout was nothing short of devastating.”

A chamber survey found 90 per cent of businesses were “severely” affected or had shut their doors.

The disruption had also triggered innovation and a rethink of business models, she said.

Chamber president Melissa d’Ath said work with the Shire would help businesses get expert accountancy aid to guide Commonwealth support measures.

“The (chamber) identified that JobKeeper payments have the potential to inject considerable capital into our local economy,” she said.

“The greater the success rate of businesses in obtaining these funds, the stronger our economy will be coming out of this crisis.

“We’ve been thrilled to be able to offer real and substantive action.”

The chamber will also provide digital business tools as well as help with marketing, online sales, and account-keeping training.

“It is still tough times for Margaret River business, but we are seeing signs of a slow recovery and we will continue to support our businesses and community in any way we can,” Ms McFie said.

But it was too early to gauge the extent of the toll in looming permanent business closures, with a second chamber survey planned in future weeks.

Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said COVID-19 had rendered some regional chambers inoperable, and WA Government money would guide recovery operations for local economies.

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