Enabling Environment For Business Growth Central To City's Success



Jacky Buys , Board Member of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber and lead for Chamber Task Team , Herald Article


Two sets of figures reported in the last two weeks have highlighted the economic onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic — the results of a Nelson Mandela Bay municipality survey showing the severe impact on local business revenue, output and employment, shortly after Stats SA had revealed the country’s record high unemployment rate.

This puts the need for an enabling environment for business growth and investment higher on the agenda than ever.

The survey by the municipality’s economic development, tourism and agriculture department found that the Bay’s GDP in 2020 had dropped to 2010 levels and that more than 40% of the businesses surveyed had revenue losses of more than 10%, while half had cut up to five jobs each.

More than half of the businesses were operating at reduced capacity.

Though the survey had a relatively small sample (73 businesses), it confirms the wealth of anecdotal evidence that one picks up almost daily, as well as other studies in other cities and countries revealing the deep economic impact of Covid-19 shutdowns, lockdowns and slowdowns.

Especially concerning is that a quarter of the businesses expected the city’s employment and GDP figures to take more than five years to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Nationally and locally, there is much talk of economic recovery plans, and the need to promote trade and attract new investment.

It was positive to see, in the same article in The Herald (September 1) on the business survey, acting city manager Anele Qaba saying that the city’s economic recovery plan included prioritising maintenance of public infrastructure and consistency of electricity and water supply.

At the same time, the city is looking to work with economic stakeholders to ensure coordination and collaboration in trade and investment promotion, and the chamber recently hosted the first meeting of the Bay’s Trade and Investment Forum led by Mpho Jonas, head of the municipality’s trade and investment department.

The meeting was positive and productive, with the group of diverse role players unanimous about uniting behind a common trade and investment strategy for the city.

Work around promoting investment and driving economic development is welcome, especially in terms of uniting behind a common vision and driving implementation of plans, but the other side of the coin is equally important.

That is, securing the underpinning of an enabling environment that serves business, residents and tourists.

Getting the basics right — maintenance of infrastructure, a stable and secure business and living environment, reliability of essential services — is critical to supporting a trade and investment promotion strategy, and critical for retaining existing investors too.

Job creation is a priority, but so is protecting existing jobs, and that means ensuring ease of doing business for the companies already invested in the city.

Prospective new investors will look at the quality of infrastructure and services, at maintenance and capital expenditure, and they will also look to existing businesses and whether their operating environment is supportive.

We need to look at getting the basics right not only for business, but for residents and tourists too, because all three are central to the city’s success, and all three require a city that works.

Consider a CEO deciding where to expand, build a new factory or open a new branch.

The considerations will not only be business-related — for example, land or premises, availability of skills, essential services, permits and red tape and so on — but also personal and family-related, for the CEO and their employees and families.

Quality of life, safety, schools, things to do, public transport — these all form part of the business investment decision and creating a value proposition for employees, and many of these are also needed to support a positive tourist experience.

So, our approach to getting the basics right takes in all of these perspectives, rather than focusing solely on business in isolation.

The business chamber’s task teams are the “engine” of the business community, striving to make a difference and improve the enabling environment for business by working together as a united voice as well as collaborating with government and other role players. These task teams focus on safety and security, water and electricity infrastructure, and transport and logistics, including ports and rail, with critical issues identified and prioritised — and as we make progress, with concrete actions under way, the potential for achieving some real wins to support an enabling environment is clear.

Some businesses question why they should get involved in improving conditions in the city.

Our philosophy is that as business, we must live in the community, not live off it.

It’s all of our responsibility to make a difference to the city’s future sustainability — we have a responsibility to our own business sustainability, as well as to our employees and our clients, to ensure that the city works for all of us.