Cheers to collaboration . . . Business South's Waitaki navigator Rebecca Finlay and Oamaru Business Collective chairwoman Cara Tipping Smith discuss the merging of their organisations over coffee. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

The Oamaru Business Collective and Business South are coming together to create a stronger voice for businesses in Waitaki.

Last week, the collective put a proposal to its 72 members to merge with Business South. As part of the deal, Oamaru Business Collective members would be given a six-month membership with Business South, and two members of the collective’s committee would be appointed to Business South’s Waitaki advisory group.

The Oamaru Business Collective was formed in 2019 after a community meeting about the challenges of retail in Oamaru, and concerns about the growing number of empty retail and office spaces in the North Otago town’s main street. Over the past three years, the collective has organised regular networking events and shop local campaigns, and last year hosted the inaugural Oamaru Business Collective Awards.

After Business South was formed last year, from a merger between the Otago Chamber of Commerce and the Otago Southland Employers’ Association, a new “business navigator” role was created in the Waitaki district, to support and elevate local businesses.

Oamaru Business Collective chairwoman Cara Tipping Smith said Rebecca Finlay, who started in the Business South role in January, had already made an “extraordinary” impact in the district.

“She’s doing amazing work and the resources that she’s got behind her are significant, so it did beg the question – why would we have two business associations?” Ms Tipping Smith said.

“So merging, joining together is just a really fantastic way for some of our people to experience Business South, and then make a decision as to what works for them going forward.”

It was a crucial time for businesses in Waitaki to unite – the Covid-19 pandemic was continuing to create challenges, more main street businesses had closed recently, and the Waitaki District Council was expected to release the findings of its economic development and tourism review at the end of the month, she said.

Business collective founder Annabel Berry said merging with Business South was the “perfect progression” for the incorporated society, and would create an even stronger voice for businesses in the district.

“We always set it up because we wanted to have a strong voice for business in North Otago, and now we can see, being such a small town, that merging with Business South is the perfect way forward,” Mrs Berry said.

“I’m super proud of what we’ve done in the last few years, particularly with representing business, but also starting up the awards, which we will continue with Business South.

“It’s now time to all work together and make sure that we do the best for the business community.”

Mrs Finlay said Business South was “really fortunate” to have developed a relationship with the collective and its members, and was looking forward to welcoming new businesses into its group.

In Oamaru, Business South organised regular networking events and training workshops that members, and non-members, could access. It also provided specialist and tailored business support and advocacy to members.

“Doing anything in competition to one another, it just makes no sense,” Mrs Finlay said.

“We’ll definitely listen to the OBC members that we’re able to support for six months and see what kind of events they want and we’ll be responsive to that .because, obviously, we’d love to have as many of them as we can as members.”

Business South chief executive Mike Collins said it was a “really exciting opportunity” for both organisations.