LOCAL businesses are remaining stubbornly hopeful in the face of adverse conditions, according to the Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).
Despite obvious issues for the area such as drought and bushfires, and less obvious ones like floods and the coronavirus affecting spending in the shire, owners are keeping faith in two things - that the good times will return, and themselves.
Innovation and diversification were two of the major topics discussed at February's chamber breakfast, with the likes of Hunter Belle Cheese's Geoff Chesworth speaking about how they have expanded into the manufacturing, retail and tourism and hospitality sectors.
However, MCCI president Mike Kelly said it was important to keep a level head and look at the reality of the situation for some businesses, who are struggling and need more support.
"There was a mixed response from different sectors, and even though the Retail Traders Association was talking up how the Christmas period was going be - how it was going to be up on last year - generally speaking it wasn't," he stated.
"I think that most businesses did about the same or less than the previous year, and last year I think they did about the same or less than the previous year.
"But, each time the forecasters in the lead up to Christmas talk about 2 per cent growth or 2.5 per cent growth but it doesn't happen."
The lack of increased sales over the holiday period is something that reportedly surprised Brendan Yap of Harvey Norman Muswellbrook, although Mr Kelly had an explanation for that.
"It's a matter of 'what does Christmas shopping really mean' and when does it happen," he said.
"Because I think it's generally recognised that a lot of people do leave for Christmas holidays, they go to the coast."
People's love for water has caused a quick lift in spirits over recent weeks though, and MCCI member services manager Wayne Toms admitted he's noticed a change after some consistent downfalls.
"I think the rain generally has an impact on everyone, just psychologically it gives you a lift," he said.
"But, obviously, it's just going to help optimism and positivity, and if we get follow up rain then this could be a really good year for us."
Attracting more residents to live in the town is also a focus of the chamber, and they are actively looking to make that happen through the likes of their Making Muswellbrook program.
On top of that, they are promoting their small and medium business forums, which try to provide tips for local business owners to increase their productivity.