Support for business in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle

In the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, it is crucial that we come together as a community to revitalise and support those most affected by the flooding. We have a responsibility to ensure that horticulture, agriculture, tourism and businesses in the Hawke's Bay region can recover from the damage caused by the cyclone.

Residents of Hawke’s Bay, Tairāwhiti and other affected regions have been in survival mode since disaster struck. Business continuity is the next vital item on the agenda for many business owners, second to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of themselves and their team.

A critical risk that these businesses face is a lack of cash flow. According to data collected by Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce and Hawke’s Bay Tourism, 41% of respondents are open and operating at close to normal capacity, indicating that many businesses have been able to weather the storm. However, 21% of respondents expressed concern about their cash flow, either in the short or longer term. Some businesses have reported the next three months of projects have dried up, causing them to worry about how they will pay their staff. Others are looking at ways to raise extra cash, while some are trying to strike a delicate balance between investors and borrowers.

A disconnected supply chain in one region manifests in the form of knock-on effects on markets and enterprises in other parts of the world. There is a critical need to ensure the survival of these businesses, particularly to maintain supply of food sources to New Zealand, and offshore.

A possible solution the government could implement is to allocate funding where the need is greatest. By working with local businesses and communities, the government can identify areas where funding is most needed. By providing targeted funding to those areas, we can ensure the most vulnerable businesses and communities receive the support they need to recover and rebuild.

Wage subsidies were mentioned by many, indicating that businesses are looking for support to help them through this challenging period. 11% of respondents are concerned about staffing shortages and wages, highlighting the need for businesses to support their team members' mental health and wellbeing through this traumatic event. Some businesses are unable to open due to staff shortages caused by the cyclone separating staff from their place of work. These subsidies can provide much-needed relief for businesses struggling with cash flow and payroll, helping them retain their staff and support their communities during this challenging time.

The data also revealed that 13% of respondents have significant concerns about their supply chain, including access to goods and exports. The closure of the Napier/Taupo Road has had a severe impact on some businesses, making it difficult to transport goods to the upper North Island and leading some beef farmers to close their season early. To support affected industries, the government could work with businesses to develop a collective strategy for freight north, ensuring that goods can reach their destination in spite of supply chain disruptions.

Finally, 10% of respondents expressed concerns about infrastructure, including water and roading. Some businesses, such as those involved in machinery maintenance and manufacturing, are really feeling the pinch in relation to out of region projects. What is usually a two-hour drive from Napier to Wairoa is now projected to take 15 hours due to road closures through State Highway 2.

The government is working with First Steps to provide mental health and wellbeing support to business owners in affected areas. Business owners can tap into a funding pool of $1M to work one on one with a counsellor to increase their resilience, process trauma and be better prepared to support their staff through challenging times. Businesses that are struggling with staffing shortages and payroll may also need support in caring for their employees' mental health and wellbeing during this difficult time. While this is a good start, there is much more mahi to do.

Large-scale fruit and vegetable production, sheep and beef farming, a highly regarded wine industry, logging, furniture and building material manufacturing all call Hawke’s Bay home. As with any other significant event, we will get through by retaining our signature community spirit and compassion for others.