This week the Hastings District Council voted to use money from its COVID-19 Recovery Contingency Fund to set up a Hastings-based Business Hub – a ‘carbon copy’ of the Hawke’s Bay Business Hub in Napier.
The Hub – a pilot project from October until June 2021 – will initially operate out of the ‘Tribune Precinct’ in Queen Street East, with a possible move to the corner of Karamu Road and Queen St.
The initiative divided Council, with two councillors opposing the project, but ultimately the recommendation was passed. Here at BayBuzz we’re asking ourselves – how many Hubs does one region need? We already have the food hub, business hub and tech hub – do we really need another business hub when the Ahuriri-based hub services the entire region?
At least Hastings ratepayers aren’t being asked to stump up for what is essentially a double-up service. The Council will fund $70,000 of the total $90,000 cost from the COVID-19 Recovering Contingency Fund and the remainder from its Economic Development Fund. If the pilot scheme is extended for another year, ratepayers will be asked to come up with $130,000.
The existing Business Hub in Ahuriri is operated by Business Hawke’s Bay and is home to more than 16 business support agencies including HB Regional Business Partners, NZ Trade and Enterprise, Export New Zealand, Business Central, Callaghan Innovation and Te Puni Kōkiri. It is funded by contributions from the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Napier City Council and Hastings District Council.
Essentially this means Hastings District Council is funding two exact same operations – one courtesy of its ratepayers, a point not lost on councillors Wendy Schollum and Simon Nixon, both of whom raised concerns about the initiative and opposed the motion at the meeting.
Nixon felt that while it is important to support the business community, there was not enough specific information or discussion about whether or not businesses would access a hub in Hastings and how this would benefit them. He said there was “too much punt, not enough specific”.
Schollum felt the same, saying not enough research had been done to justify the $90,000 spend and said the recommendations which were brought to council had “lost their way”.
“Providing only one option, the establishment of a carbon copy of the Ahuriri hub in Hastings, the recommendations assumed that the only reason Hastings businesses were not already accessing the support services in the Hawke’s Bay Business Hub was the location,” she said.
“There are far more cost-effective ways to test an assumption than spending $90,000, and using 14% of the remaining Covid-19 recovery fund, to establish a carbon copy of a facility Hastings ratepayers are already co-funding in Ahuriri.”
It has been confirmed by Council officers that no consultation nor research was conducted with Hastings businesses to find out reasons they may not be accessing the existing business hub’s services. So it leaves the question – what are the barriers (if any) that may be holding Hastings-based businesses back? Surely not 21km?
Schollum said that as an SME owner, she sees continued evidence that the key reason many SMEs, in both Hastings and Napier, don’t use government-funded business support services is not because of location, but rather because they don’t know they exist.
“Having another building lease, in which those services sit, waiting for SMEs to magically self-identify a need that the hub can service, will not fix that.
“Opening new buildings is fun, but the focus needed to be moved from simply having another building to the actual needs of the business community,” she said.
Hastings mayor Sandra Hazelhurst supports the funding, saying “It’s a fantastic opportunity for our Hastings small business community, close to 10,000 businesses, to have direct access to some of the government agencies like NZTE, Callaghan Innovation, business support.” “Direct access”? We’re confused. They already have that.
Fuelling the divide between Napier and Hastings, Business Hawke’s Bay chief executive Carolyn Neville said that “having a physical presence in Hastings will make it easier for the Hastings business community to access the support that’s already available, and make it easier for HBBH and its member agencies to connect with the business community, supporting business recovery.”
BayBuzz will watch for lines to form at the Hastings replica Hub and we’ll monitor this space with interest.