Cara Tipping Smith

The Oamaru Business Collective has a new leader.

Design Federation creative director Annabel Berry has stepped down from her role as chairwoman, and has been replaced by The Business Hive director Cara Tipping Smith.

Ms Tipping Smith knew she had big shoes to fill, taking over from Mrs Berry who founded the group in 2019, but said she was excited about the challenges ahead.

She had been involved with the Oamaru Business Collective from the start – “way back when it was just an idea Annabel had”.

“I think we all knew we needed a collective group to accurately represent local businesses, but it took Annabel to bring us together to make it happen,” she said.

She was “incredibly grateful” Mrs Berry would remain on the committee, continuing to help give local businesses a voice and increase their visibility in the community.

The committee had decided to rotate the chair role each year, to give board members the opportunity to drive a different focus.

“We decided that we would share the load,” Ms Tipping Smith said.

Last year, the Oamaru Business Collective became an incorporated society, with a paid annual subscription.

There was a variety of businesses signed up – from health practitioners to the trades. While their individual needs varied, there were commonalities, as the majority were small businesses, she said.

The collective holds regular social gatherings, hosted by different businesses.

“That’s been really interesting seeing people actually connect, not network,” Ms Tipping Smith said.

“Actually have a conversation with someone else in business, and it’s amazing just how powerful those connections are.”

The committee also met regularly, and would continue to organise events, such as Shoptober, and advocate on behalf of businesses.

Post-lockdown, the feeling among Oamaru businesses was mixed.

“I think it’s fair to say everybody’s got some kind of hardship,” Ms Tipping Smith said.

“There’s a lot of positivity, there’s a lot of ‘it’s not as bad as we thought it would be’, there’s some commentary around ‘we haven’t seen the worst of it yet’.”

A drop in spend in Otago and Southland was “still really hitting” – especially small businesses.

“That’s kids school fees, or the new van – it’s actually real money to them.”

At present, the council’s destination management and spatial plans were what the committee was most focused on.

While the destination management plan had a tourism focus, there was also potential to attract people to move to the Waitaki district, Ms Tipping Smith said.

“Of course, our tourists are limited – but actually, the people coming through could also wind up being newcomers. They could be the people who go, ‘this place is cool, we want to start a business here’, or ‘we want to employ people here’, or, actually, ‘we could run our business from here’.”

Ms Tipping Smith was passionate about making business ownership and management an attractive, “real” career choice.

“We are looking at what’s happening in other regions and going if we want to attract people?’.”

The Oamaru Business Collective committee is made up of Ms Tipping Smith, Mrs Berry, Cathy Maaka, Dawn Brown, Jeremy Holding, Rachael Keen, and Simon Berry.