Chamber chief reflects on ‘one hell of a year’

Kelly Bouzaid

Cambridge has come through a challenging year in surprisingly good shape, but a cautious approach to 2021 is needed, says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Bouzaid.

The post Covid-19 lockdown situation wasn’t as dismal as initially forecast, she said.  Waipā has been more resilient than expected, adapting to the changing circumstances with ‘tenacity and speed’, although small business, hospitality and some retail is still struggling.  The current summer period would be telling, she suggested, with concerns expressed around whether the number of domestic tourists coming to the region could offset the loss of international tourists.

Kelly said 3218 fewer pedestrians were recorded in town last month.  The Cambridge pedestrian counter logged 91,657 during December 2020, compared to 94,875 in December 2019.

“Overall, 2020 was one hell of a year,” she said. “People have had to dig deep to stay in business … they’re now looking for a platform from which to leverage in 2021.  The challenges will have given them a clearer picture of how things look and what their priorities should be. An austerity budget remains to ensure internal resilience, but it’s business as usual here at the Chamber.  In saying that, in the event us of having to revert into crisis management, we have the ability to adapt quickly. We know what that means now and have to be ready for it.”

Several key issues emerged from the pandemic, Kelly said.  One was the impact closed borders has had on supply chains, leaving business facing a shortage of parts to service or products to sell.

“Things we have always taken for granted might look quite different in 2021.”
Another key issue is the shortage of both skilled and unskilled labour, she said, adding that the difficulty in finding staff is strangling some businesses.

“Overall, we’ve been quite lucky in Cambridge. We’ve seen a couple of vulnerable businesses close, but there have also been a few new ones open.”

None of it had been easy, she said.  The Chamber moved tactically to offset the immediate impact of the lockdown, strengthening networks and engaging with like-minded Waikato-wide organisations to provide resources and support. Heightened communications saw Zoom panels created, industry specific conversations shared, webinars and more, as well as the launch of two successful initiatives, the Totally Locally brand and the regional job-matching platform, Waikato.nxtstep.

Membership to the Chamber grew in 2020, and members new and old are more transparent about their needs, more honest about their vulnerabilities. “There is more connectedness than there was before Covid-19.  People want to know how others survived, and what the future looks like for them.”

She said the anticipated arrival of vaccines around April and a re-opening of borders would change the landscape once again.

“Business needs to stay informed and maintain a view on the horizon for both threats and opportunity.”

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