LAST year was a difficult year for many local businesses, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom, according to Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Mike Kelly.
Mr Kelly said the pursuit of cost reductions and productivity had had downward pressure on profitability.
“With the resources sector only beginning to come out of a three year downturn, there was considerable pressure on profit margins for everyone associated with that sector,” he said.
“Even though there was an increasing volume of maintenance and repair work being done, competition was fierce.”
The president said the overriding sentiment in 2016 was one of caution and a lack of business confidence.
He also said conflict between industries and resistance to coexistence was another major confidence deterrent.
“These negative sentiments filter through to all parts of our local economy with consumers being cautions with their spending,” he said.
However, he believed there were some positives, including a substantial reduction in the housing glut, continued expenditure by Muswellbrook council in infrastructure, the opening of Campbells Corner and the Tertiary Education Centre, upgrades to Muswellbrook Fair, and the commencement of the Mach Energy Australia.
He said the Mt. Pleasant project, and expressions of interest in new and innovative business in town, were good signs for the year ahead.
“We have to be careful not to carry too much negative thinking into 2017,” he said.
“We need to be alert, but not alarmed.
“In the year ahead of us, we can expect an increase in local economic activity.
“The Mt. Pleasant project will be the main driver of this, with major contractors presenting opportunities for local subcontractors and suppliers.
“Those in the service sector should see increasing opportunities.
“The education sector is getting a lot of attention and the student intake at the Tertiary Education Centre should be a boost to the CBD.
“Over the coming years we expect to see further expansion in this sector with spin off benefits to retail and hospitality businesses as well as the residential and rental accommodation market.
“As we recover from the downturn with considerable workforce reductions, we can expect demand for qualified and experience staff to increase through 2017, and beyond.
“We could see a growing labour shortage in all sectors and particularly in trades skills.
“There will be a challenge for businesses, as well as the chamber and council, to retain existing residents and attract skilled workers to come to Muswellbrook as residents.
“The current and proposed projects should give us all confidence in the long term strength and sustainability of the local economy.
“Despite the commodity price cycles we can be confident in sustained levels of production of coal for many years to come.
“Before we see a decline in the coal industry we will most likely see an increase in alternate energy, clean coal technology, education, agriculture and food production.
“There are many possibilities and there is strong evidence of investment by the public sector in research.
“The chamber is hopeful and confident that the private sector will see opportunities to invest in a broad range of alternative industries which will lead to a stronger local economy.”
Mr Kelly said the review of the Muswellbrook LEP, the CBD Strategic Plan, the 20 year plan for the Muswellbrook Town Centre, the possibility of an expanded aquatic centre, a convention and performance centre, a new sewerage and treatment works, the upgrade of the Denman main street, and a general expansion of infrastructure spending, were very positive indicators.
“Business, and the community generally, should look to the future with confidence,” he said.
Mr Kelly said Chamber’s Buy Local campaign would continue in 2017.
“With the themes of Shop Local, Trade Local, Play Local, and Enjoy Local; the Chamber is encouraging everyone in the Muswellbrook community to keep money in town,” he said.
“By shopping and doing business in town we are all contributing to sustainable employment and increasing our economic strength.”