2020 Shared Inquiry Program: Preliminary Findings
Two major research reports from the RAI’s 2020 Intergovernmental Shared Inquiry Program are nearing completion. The theme for 2020 is disaster recovery, with an emphasis on small business recovery and the role of communities in recovery management. The Program is funded by most Australian jurisdictions for policy-relevant research on a select number of important regional development issues.
The Main Street
Many regional towns can attest to the vital community and economic role of their “main street”. One research project examines 10 years of employment data for trends in main street retail in small and medium sized towns in Australia, to understand how retail is evolving, and the impact on the retail mix of droughts, bushfires, floods and COVID-19 restrictions. This research helps regional leaders untangle the longer term and shorter term drivers of the health of their main streets.
The analysis showed that there are underlying trends in regional retail employment favouring sectors like food/beverage services, while other sectors like recreational goods and furniture retailing are generally declining in employment in regional Australia. Against this backdrop the different types of disasters do have an impact.
Droughts have the biggest negative employment impact both in magnitude and timescale, though are associated with increasing short-term sales in hardware and clothing. Bushfires are associated with a spike in fuel and clothing sales jobs but with employment in these sectors falling again in subsequent time periods. Similarly, floods are associated with increased employment in accommodation and pharmacies, but this is followed by a dip in accommodation in subsequent time periods.
Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island Recovery
Another research project has looked into the recovery pathways for businesses in the Barossa Valley and on Kangaroo Island after the shocking trifecta of drought, bushfires and COVID-19.
People shared what they had learned through disasters, how they have changed their business activities to adapt to, and in some cases even thrive during COVID-19 uncertainty. They are planning for a future with longer and more frequent droughts, heat and bushfires. Intergovernmental policy and funding aim to foster both business and community recovery, yet there seems to be a lack of system-level capacity to support and embed business recovery and resilience over the longer term in disaster-affected regions.
Connections are a crucial ingredient – the strength of connections between business owners in a community, and with others in other communities. Concern for business owners’ mental health was high in both communities, with lack of local support inhibiting good decision-making and potentially leading to delays in business recovery. The study found that local leadership is crucial for transformative place-based recovery.
Both of these research reports will be released in 2021 so watch this space! In the New Year, we will also be releasing a number of case studies on small businesses recovering from various disasters, including the strategies they used and lessons they learned. We hope these will inspire and inform other small businesses who want to adapt their business strategies to better cope with unpredictable change. Make sure you’re on our mailing list and follow us on social media to be the first to hear about these stories.
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