Big business 'not' for smaller towns

Annette Kendall.
Annette Kendall.
Big business does not work for people in smaller towns, a rural economic development researcher says.

The idea of a rural town attracting one or two large businesses to an area to provide for the local economy is outdated, and should be replaced by the idea of establishing a diverse range of small enterprises, Annette Kendall says..

Doing so would create a stable, more resilient economy which would be more satisfying and suitable for residents.

''Would you rather live in a town where 400 people work in one factory, where they are not happy, or 400 individual businesses, where everyone is doing what they love?''

The Dannevirke regional business adviser used that example after speaking to more than 40 people in Alexandra,

discussing the benefits of creating diverse and supportive businesses in rural areas, as a way of ''future-proofing'' small towns.

When studying for a master's in business administration at Massey University, Mrs Kendall undertook a study tour to Europe, where she saw many small towns taking the same diversity-based approach, and thought: ''What is holding us back in New Zealand?''

''The whole thing about regional economic development is it has to be grass-roots ... you can't transplant what has been done in one town to another.''

For rural towns, free Wi-Fi, high-speed internet, or transport were not key in the survival of local business, she said.

More important was a culture supportive of entrepreneurship and innovation.

The challenge of creating such an environment was the ''closed'' nature of rural communities, she said.

Often, small towns were not welcoming of new people with new ideas, but were accepting if one of their own took on a new idea.

Another problem when establishing a business was the myth people could do everything themselves, she said.

''There is no person who can be good enough on all levels to run a business.''

People needed to learn to identify what they were and were not good at, and how to make contact with those who could help, she said.

Establishing support groups with a dedicated organiser who could connect people with different skills was an important method for creating strong, diverse rural business communities.

Discussion organiser Ms Amy Scott said as a result of Mrs Kendall's presentation, a group of about 25 people from the region decided to take action.

''The idea is that there is interest at a grass-roots level to foster entrepreneurship in Central Otago.

''It's back to a village approach in that it has to be driven ground-up not top-down - it's up to the community to decide.''

Ms Scott said following Mrs Kendall's presentation, they met representatives from the Central Otago District Council, who showed interest in Mrs Kendall returning to the area to run a one-day workshop within the next two to three monthsA date had not yet been set, she said.

Add a Comment