Development West Coast [DWC] Chief Executive Heath Milne says the region is “open for business”. He says there’s been a steady increase in small businesses forming in the region over the last two to three years, but larger more established businesses are gaining traction.

“You do have a friendly environment to move into if you come to the West Coast. But what we’re seeing now is the larger potential businesses that are starting to kick off,” says Milne.

“They are largely in the mineral sector. We’ve seen a real increase in that area which is probably counter-intuitive if you think about where the public perception of the mineral sector is.”

Milne says there’s a surge in business development and job opportunities, particularly in industries related to natural resources, new technology, and renewable energy. The West Coast is rich in natural resources, and global demand for commodities associated with these sectors is on the rise.

“We’re seeing some businesses that are in those areas that are starting to take advantage of that strong demand globally.”

Development West Coast was set up as a Charitable Trust in 2001 to manage, invest and distribute income from a fund of $92 million received from government as compensation for the loss of indigenous forestry and the privatisation of much infrastructure on the West Coast in the late 1990s.

The organisation’s primary objective is to promote sustainable employment opportunities and generate economic benefits for the West Coast.

DWC plays multiple roles in the region, serving as the regional tourism organisation, offering commercial financing services, and providing support for business development and growth. The latter is through advisory services and networking [Regional Business Partner Network], connecting businesses with mentors [Business Mentors New Zealand] and training opportunities [Upskill West Coast].

DWC also runs capability building workshops, events and programmes plus hands out four tertiary scholarships annually (valued up to $32,500 per student), to help and retain talent in the region.

Development West Coast Tertiary Scholarships being awarded.

“The cost of starting a business on the West Coast is potentially lower than other parts of New Zealand. We have lower rent, lower property prices. The infrastructure for businesses is pretty good and there’s been a lot of investment has gone into that space in recent times. The lifestyle for people on the coast is really good, that’s quite useful when attracting staff as well,” Milne explains.

However, Milne says a lack of housing is having an impact on recruiting and retaining staff.

“While you do have a lifestyle you also need to have access to quality housing, and while it is cheaper here on the coast, the availability is restricted as it is right across the country.”

Regarding the challenges faced during the Covid-19 Pandemic, Milne says DWC played a crucial role in facilitating government support schemes for businesses, including subsidies and the Jobs for Nature scheme.

The organisation also swiftly established support for training and recruitment through the Provincial Growth Fund supported UpSkill scheme.

“We really had to respond quickly to that issue and what it meant was while we’re already in contact with businesses through the economic development function, that escalated very quickly and we ended up with a lot more businesses that we were in contact with and supporting in various different ways,” says Milne.

As for business insights, Milne advised business owners to have sound financial accounting.

“Cash is king, If you don’t have control over your cash, you won’t have control on your business.”

He also says some entrepreneurs need to invest more in planning skills.

Development West Coast team at the West Coast Tourism Summit.

“One of the things that holds business growth back is that often people have good ideas but they probably fail to execute them properly because they don’t have the fundamentals – as in ensuring they’ve got their supply chains secured and ensuring they’ve got their funding for their business growth secured.

“It’s that fundamental stuff that does impact success and startups.”

He believes anyone can learn the skills to be an entrepreneur, but a certain amount of “natural get up and go needs to be there” for a start. Not to mention motivation being the key, he says.

For those who are afraid to leave their jobs and pursue their entrepreneurial ideas:

“Most entrepreneurs would fail before they succeed, so be prepared for things not to go as you would expect. Don’t over commit, get as much help as you can, but don’t throw everything in at the start.”

What does the near future hold for the West Coast? Milne’s keen for the businesses in the region to diversify further.

“We are seeing some progress in that space. In the past we had agriculture, the mineral sector and tourism were key productive sectors of the economy but we are seeing some diversification into other areas.”

Story by Mina Amso.

Innovation Nation is an annual series celebrating stories of innovation and diversity in entrepreneurship from around New Zealand.

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