Bad press could spell death knell for local businesses

BUSINESSES servicing the South West townships bounding the Alcoa Wagerup refinery have more than just health concerns to contend with.

Many local businesses believe the current community relation’s crisis facing Alcoa could spell the death knell for several businesses reliant on the town for their livelihood.

The small business community in Yarloop is banding together to seek compensation from Alcoa for lost income, while others in the community, such as Yarloop General Store owners Glen and Carolyn Turner, are calling on Alcoa to buy out their business.

Mrs Turner believes Alcoa should adopt the same generous policy toward businesses affected by the refinery’s operations that has been extended to the approximately 700 property owners in Yarloop and Wagerup.

Alcoa public relations manager Brian Wills-Johnson confirmed the company had had several talks with local business, but said the company would not buy any businesses.

“Alcoa is not in the business of buying businesses,” Mr Wills-Johnson told Business News. He said it was not Alcoa’s role to operate small local businesses.

Fears that the businesses would suffer as a result of Alcoa’s policy of buying residential property were also ill-founded, the spokesman said.

“We are not going to buy properties to make them empty. We will be looking at re-populating the town,” he said.

Local real estate agency Drakes-brook Realty recently entered into an agreement with Alcoa to on-sell the properties.

But Drakesbrook principal Jean Hewett said it remained to be seen what demand for the properties would be like, given that Alcoa had indicated an unwillingness to sell the properties at a heavily discounted price just to fill them.

The company was also working closely with the South West Development Commission, looking at various proposals that may help local businesses operate.

While unwilling to pre-empt any proposals coming from the work done by the SWDC, Mr Wills-Johnson signalled that one possibility was for Alcoa to increase its purchases of commodities from local businesses.

Small comfort for Mrs Turner, who said there was already evidence that local trade was down.

As operator of the local postal service, she has already seen postal business decline, with predictions of worse to come.

On the market for the past two years, the likelihood of a buyer being found for the general store looks increasingly remote, particularly since the health scares have surfaced.

She said that, if forced to close, she and her husband Greg could stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While appreciative of the arrangement to on-sell Alcoa purchased properties, Ms Hewett’s business is already suffering.

“Since it (the health concerns) first came out in the media, all sales ceased. I’m aware of only one purchaser apart from Alcoa since that time,” Ms Hewett said.

“As soon as it hit the media, we lost 27 per cent of our listings and 20 per cent of our income.”

Alcoa has offered to purchase at a 35 per cent premium, plus $7,000 in moving expenses, about 100 houses within Area A that falls within the new extended buffer zone surrounding the refinery.

While still in the early days of the purchasing scheme, it is understood around 20 houses have been purchased by Alcoa under the guaranteed program.

Owners of the 600 properties which fall within Area B have also been given the option to sell to Alcoa, though only at market price and for a period of 12 months.


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