SUFFERING CQ: RDAFCW CEO Rees Banks hopes to see the employment rate in Rockhampton rise in the near future.
SUFFERING CQ: RDAFCW CEO Rees Banks hopes to see the employment rate in Rockhampton rise in the near future. Allan Reinikka Rokacbd

Empty shops prompt Rees Banks to take action

AS REES Banks drove his daughter to a Rocky bookstore, a clearer picture started to emerge for him of the economic hardship the region's small business operators were enduring.

As the father and daughter started counting the number of vacant shop fronts, they quickly ran out of fingers and toes.

Rees said they gave up counting after reaching 50 on the city's south side.

This was last year and the situation prompted Mr Banks, Regional Development Australia Fitzroy and Central West CEO, to take a deeper look into the region's small and medium business economy.

Rees partnered with some key players and together they produced a report which was this week presented to the region's business community.

"We wanted to understand why we had so many vacancies in the Rockhampton and Livingstone areas and why our unemployment rate was so high in comparison to other cities," Rees said.

The Capricornia Business Dashboard Report revealed the unemployment rate in Rockhampton and Livingstone hit around 8% at the end of last year, which was the second highest rate of the studied regions, which included Bundaberg, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns.

The report featured an online survey of more than 240 unique businesses in the region during a three-week period in May-June this year.

Some of the key findings included an unemployment rate that was trending upwards, a higher than average number of business closures and lack of confidence in the sector.

Mr Banks, 49, said there really was no one issue responsible for the unemployment level.

"We need a stimulus here to attract more workers or that initial hit of larger projects to ripple employment through the community. I think we are at a moment in time in the boom bust cycle and we need something to stimulate us along, some large infrastructure wouldn't go astray," he said.

"We did lose a lot of business in one hit through government and council restructuring. So I think losing a lot at the one time had a big impact for those people who are struggling to find work or replace those jobs."

The report also indicated that local businesses appeared to have had mixed experiences with respect to the attraction and retention of quality staff. Approximately one-third of businesses reported difficulty in attracting quality staff into their business in the past 12 months.

"We have a lot of training companies and now with the merger of CQUniversity job opportunity will increase," Mr Banks said.

"But I do think businesses need to be more patient and try to remember their first day on the job and allow the employee to grow into the role."

Capricornia Chamber of Commerce, the Queensland Government and CQUniversity partnered with RDAFCW to produce the Capricornia Business Dashboard Report. Visit http://www.rdafcw.com.au to view the report.



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