Pandemic beginning to stifle economy

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By ADAM BURNS, LOCAL DEMOCRACY REPORTER

Latest economic figures for the Waimakariri district are in stark contrast to the realities of the Omicron outbreak for local businesses.

This is the assessment by regional economic agency Enterprise North Canterbury who believes businesses were feeling the sting over the first three months of the year, and the numbers were set to confirm this.

The Waimakariri’s December 2021 economic quarterly report, released a fortnight ago, highlights “abnomally” high growth in the district last year compared to national trends.

A 9.7 per cent rise in the district’s GDP was up on nationwide figures which sat at 5.5 per cent.

Employment of Waimakariri residents was also up by 2.7 per cent over the year to December 2021, compared to 1.1 per cent recorded in Christchurch,

“There are ample signs of confidence in the Waimakariri economy,” the report says.

“Waimakariri’s growing population and employment has kept local tills ringing.”

Enterprise North Canterbury business support manager Miles Dalton says a lot has changed since then, as the effects of the pandemic begin to stifle the local economy.

“On the surface, this report paints a very rosy picture of our district with all indicators pointing in the right direction,” he says.

“However, what we are hearing and seeing on the ground over the first two months of 2022 is very different.

“Less foot traffic for retail and hospitality businesses, supply issues for trades and services, and staff shortages across the board are some of the challenges facing North Canterbury businesses as Omicron makes its presence felt.”

On February 21, the Government announced further targeted support for businesses struggling in the red light setting, alongside an interest-free extension to small business loans, and flexibility on tax payment dates.

Dalton hopes the latest subsidy announcement will alleviate challenges enough to get local traders through the next few months.

“It’s hard to predict what the next few months will hold, locally and nationally, but the next [quarterly report] will likely tell a very different story to this latest one.”

The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, in response to the targeted financial support announcement, pointed out financial support would help mitigate financial pressure, but not workforce supply.

Chief executive LeeAnn Watson says the most “meaningful impact” would be a reduction in self-isolation periods and widespread availability of rapid antigen testing (RATs).

Free RATs were made available online last week to test Covid-19 household contacts or symptomatic people.