I was perusing some quotes recently and the following attributed to Helen Keller caught my eye: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
The reason this resonated with me is because it reflects why business confidence is so important. Without confidence and optimism, whether economic times are good or bad, we are going to see less new businesses created and more businesses close their doors.
In the ACT, business confidence has taken a hit recently due to a downturn in Australian Government employment and spending. The Federal Government and people who work in the Australian public service are key customers for Canberra businesses.
However, unlike in 1996 – the last time Commonwealth cut backs really hurt the ACT – our business sector is more diverse and was much more confident of its ability to survive and even prosper by being innovative or targeting new markets.
As a result, the dip in confidence did not last long and anecdotally I am hearing excitement and positivity from business owners about the future.
The stories people are telling me are backed by figures, with the latest Sensis report showing business confidence up by ten points.
According to this research, the ACT is one of only three jurisdictions where small and medium enterprises are showing positive support for the policies of their local government. The view of businesses surveyed is that the ACT Government is focusing on infrastructure development and is doing a lot to promote the building industry.
Perhaps even more telling, is the fact only 22 per cent of ACT businesses feel negatively when it comes to confidence in their own business prospects in the next 12 months. This is the lowest this sentiment has been in over a year.
On top of this, other factors are also improving. The ACT unemployment rate has dropped for the eighth consecutive month.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the territory’s trend unemployment rate fell to 4.1 per cent in June from a high of 5 per cent in October. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Australia unemployment is on the rise. We know the ACT numbers are in part due to those without work in Canberra leaving to find employment elsewhere, but it is also due to improved conditions here.
Currently, the ACT enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in Australia. Not bad for a city where the largest employer stopped hiring for a period of time.
In addition, the ACT’s participation rate has remained stable at 70.1 per cent, which is higher than the national seasonally adjusted rate of 64.8 per cent.
Employment in Canberra should continue to improve as the Australian Government lifts its recruitment freeze.
The low Australian dollar is helping many local exporters, such as our internationally respected education sector, secure more international markets.
What this period has really shown us is that ACT businesses are confident in their products, their services and their ability to adapt when necessary.
Our innovative and knowledge-based businesses are competing on the world stage. Our construction industry is strong and a significant employer. These and other businesses have continued to operate and even grown.
Many new skills have flowed into small and medium businesses from those who left the public sector during this time and this will lead to even more new ideas and opportunities.
Unlike in 1996, when government cuts pushed the ACT into recession, this time around our businesses took a moment to breath and then confidently went to work in the changed environment they faced.
Seeing as I started with a quote, let me finish with one. A quote that sums up the attitude businesses took and why this has allowed them to come out the other side of an economically tough time and be confident about their future prospects.
“Don’t wait for opportunity to come knocking on your door… go out and give it directions.” No one has claimed responsibility for this saying, but it could definitely be a mission statement written and adopted by any of the ACT’s many successful business owners.
phone:(02) 6247 4199
email: [email protected]
Robyn Hendry, CEO
Canberra Business Chamber