In Praise of Small Business
I love small businesses. They keep my life afloat. Just about every aspect of my personal life has me interfacing with a small business. Whether it’s a leaky tap, messy hair, a quick meal or a bunch of flowers, my needs will be almost always met by small businesses. It is their locality, ease of access and personal service which I greatly appreciate. I have even been able to have an account with the Bendigo Bank Clovelly Community Bank Branch. You will not get more local, accessible and friendly than that!
The impetus for my wanting to discuss small business with you this month arises from a fear that some of them are under threat. I noticed that in the Waverley Council area in 2017 the number of ‘retail trade’ businesses actually fell by 22, which was the largest sector decline by far. My disquiet with this apparent trend was intensified when I visited my local chicken shop, The Char, and was gobsmacked by the number of signatures on a petition opposing the proposed Woolworths in Macpherson Street.
I am not suggesting that all small businesses are under threat. The irony is that small business is huge and pervades every industry. 43 per cent of all employed Australians and around 1.51 million people in NSW work in the small business sector. Approximately 27 per cent of all wages and salaries in Australia and $41.61 billion worth in NSW are generated in small businesses. The sector also contributes approximately 31 per cent of total Australian sales and service income including more than $270 billion from NSW.
Like most things in life, a closer examination of the nature and role of small business thus raises a lot of issues for public policy consideration beyond my initial focus on local shops. For example, there has been a good deal of concern expressed by parents in Coogee seeking trade apprenticeships for their children who believe that the system of sub-contracting is severely limiting opportunities. Similarly, while growing numbers of professional and administrative specialists are working from home, many do so because they are unable to secure a more traditional employment relationship. Twenty per cent of all NSW small business operators work from home, compared with only five per cent of the total NSW workforce. While undoubtedly preferred by many, feelings of social isolation and increased stress have been associated with working from home.
Evaluating the contribution of small business to our community is complex. Certainly, some small business growth is associated with a decline in employment, career and apprenticeship opportunities. Some small business opportunities look a little like ‘buying a job’, and at a low rate of remuneration (or profit). Yet small business is an innovation hub. Got an idea? Go for it! If we include everyone with an eBay account, there are not too many of us who are not small businesses. Our local Chambers of Commerce do a great job of connecting our small businesses and ensuring their success. Think Bondi Winter Magic and the Coogee Taste Festival. Both events are run by their respective Chambers of Commerce and are designed to help invigorate our local economies during the colder months when there is less foot traffic.
While our views about the implications of growing numbers of small businesses across different industries may vary, it seems that most of us want to preserve our neighbourhood shops. Most, if not all of us, enjoy our big retail centres but we love our more traditional strip shops which have defined our neighbourhoods for generations. We like our chemist, our butcher and our friendly store, our local dentist and our small medical practice. We love having a local cinema in Randwick and a little shop a few doors up that stays open late at night for the purchase of the odd trinket.
Let’s enjoy the great shopping opportunities at Eastgardens, Westfield and the like, but let us also preserve our neighbourhood centres. Enjoy the difference, the diversity. Everywhere does not have to be the same.