Valley optimism outshines online shadow

Times are tough for Latrobe Valley small and medium businesses, although traders are trying to stay positive.

The latest Sensis Business Index survey indicates business confidence across Australia has jumped to its highest level in about five years. But regional Victorian businesses are telling a different story, with confidence levels dropping eight points since the last quarterly report.

Moe Traders Association secretary Susan Broadbent said while she could not speak for everyone, she believed most were facing hard times.

“I think times are tough for everyone – homeowners, business people and everyone,” Ms Broadbent said.

She pointed to the jointly-funded Moe Rail Precinct Revitalisation Project and the local push to use Australian-made recycled paper from Maryvale Mill as positive signs of improvement.

“I am getting confidence from the fact they (governments) have put so many millions into our area, which will boost the economy and create jobs,” she said.

The latest SBI survey covered the experiences of about 1000 small to medium businesses in a range of industries.

It asked of their experiences over the last quarter of 2015, their expectations for the current quarter, as well as 2016.

While nationally, business confidence was up, employment barriers and a slowing or stagnant economy were common concerns.

Traralgon Chamber of Commerce president Darren Howe said this reflected the sentiment of traders throughout town.

“It’s tough at the moment; there has been no improvement in terms of sales,” Mr Howe said.

“I don’t see a reason for it to improve – we don’t have any new projects happening – we need something to get going here.”

He said the additional public holidays introduced last year and cancellation of major infrastructure projects did not help business confidence at a state level.

He also said a lack of jobs and major projects in the region meant sales had not improved for about three years.

“We’re still here, and you always hope this year is going to be better than last year,” he said.

Morwell Traders committee member Lauren Marks said she believed online sales were “killing our retail”.

While she acknowledged the Hazelwood mine fire did fall hard on Morwell traders, she said business was picking up, albeit slowly. She remained confident projects such as Future Morwell would help transform the town, and in turn, help small businesses.

“I would like to think any money that’s injected into the local area naturally will improve the open spaces,” she said.

“If it looks good, it will entice people to want to be in town, spend their money in town and open more businesses in town.

“In saying that it’s also important for us, to compete with online sales, to offer nothing short of top-quality customer service.”