Business support discussed at meeting

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A meeting between the Otago Chamber of Commerce and Waitaki District Council was held last week to look at ways to add value to and support Oamaru businesses.

Waitaki District Council economic development manager Gerard Quinn said the conversation was about planning ways to expose people to different ideas to reintegrate retail in Oamaru’s central business district and they hoped to announce a joint initiative soon.

“[The Chamber] and I will create a format to engage the business people,” Mr Quinn said.

“First of all, we will look at what has happened in other places, because this is not a phenomenon exclusive to Oamaru.”

Mr Quinn said he would look at ways to make it more viable to get smaller businesses into retail, or use vacant shop fronts with alternative arrangements.

“If they are going to sit idle, let’s use them for other purposes, it gives a sense of what the street could be,” he said.

“Activity breeds activity, it gives a reason for people to come and be there.”

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan said discussions with the council had been productive and he was confident they would be able to raise the visibility of retail in Oamaru’s central business district and address the sense of detachment between the vibrant Harbour area and Thames St.

“What we are trying to push is to make sure there is a plan for the main street shopping, because if we can maximise that it becomes more of a destination for locals and tourists,” Mr McGowan said.

It could also raise awareness of what a Chamber of Commerce membership offered to enable more collaboration, but the initiative would not be exclusive to members.

Streeter Concepts owner Lance Streeter said he was skeptical about joining the Chamber of Commerce, but when he joined he found it very helpful.

He said his business had diversified to the point he saw it as “problem solving” rather than signwriting.

“It’s about having initiative and not having tunnel vision,” Mr Streeter said.

“We created a sock aid for a woman who couldn’t get her socks on without assistance.”

There were many advantages to running a business from Oamaru, he said.

“The rents here are cheap compared to other places.

“I had a friend from Auckland drive past and they couldn’t believe we had a commercial property on State Highway 1.

“We do a lot of work for people in Dunedin, Central Otago and Timaru, so it’s a really central location for them.”

He said this pushed the business’ online presence, which meant it could effectively operate anywhere.

“We get most of our work from social media.”

Mr Streeter had purchased another property, and the business had grown to five permanent staff, with the capacity to extend.