24/04/2015 - 13:18

Pilbara plans for growth beyond mines

24/04/2015 - 13:18

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Two Karratha businesswomen believe cheaper commercial rents are vital to ensuring the sustainable growth of small businesses as part of a plan to diversify the Pilbara’s economy.

OPPORTUNITY: Meagan Hartley (left) and Kylianne Turton quit their jobs in the resources industry to open small businesses. Photo: Hart Me Photography

Two Karratha businesswomen believe cheaper commercial rents are vital to ensuring the sustainable growth of small businesses as part of a plan to diversify the Pilbara’s economy.

An investment blueprint from the Pilbara Development Commission has identified opportunities for the region’s small businesses sector, as north-west towns plan for economic and population growth beyond their reliance on resources.

The Regional Investment Blueprint is now open for public comment, particularly the focus to increase the population and diversify local towns’ economies while maintaining the resources sector as a pivotal contributor.

Characterised by nine regional pillars, the blueprint includes broad plans to facilitate greater land access and infrastructure as well as increased education and training facilities, especially in health and community wellbeing.

It seeks to add value to existing industries such as marine and resources engineering by harnessing technology and helping small to medium-sized businesses grow sustainably.

The commission also identifies new economic diversification options in the sectors of agriculture, aquaculture, renewable energy and tourism.

According to the blueprint, small and medium enterprises in the Pilbara are increasingly catering to growing populations, however, high operating costs, including commercial space and wages, means the region has a third the national average number of small businesses.

Karratha residents Meagan Hartley and Kylianne Turton, who both left well-paid jobs in the resources sector to start their own businesses, told Business News a greater level of support for small businesses would make the Pilbara more liveable.

Ms Hartley, who transitioned from her weekend hobby of photography to become a full-time photographer, said there was a hidden culture of people working from home in creative industries because they couldn’t afford commercial rents.

The average advertised lease price per square metre in the Pilbara for the December 2014 quarter was $513 for retail, $503 for office and $170 for industrial warehouse space.

“A lot of people want to have a shopfront; there are a lot of small businesses operating from home – hair dressers, makeup artists, beauticians – they are always busy,” Ms Hartley told Business News.

“If the rental prices for commercial space were affordable for more small businesses then people who come into Karratha would notice a different feel.

“Rather than walking into a town that you know is only driven by resources, you would see the little businesses and it could bring more of a feeling of community, it would feel more liveable.”

Ms Hartley, whose business Hart Me Photography specialises in portraits of couples, said there were now about 30 photographers in town compared with just a handful five years ago, and there was enough work to keep them all busy because they had different styles.

She said connections made during her own pregnancy had helped her tap into a big demand for maternity photos for clients, which she believed would also translate into a growth opportunity for taking baby photos.

Kylianne Turton, founder of Fluxx Fitness, who recently had her first child, said her business, which focused on holistic treatment and movement-based techniques, had also grown by adding pre and post-natal classes.

She said while the personal trainer market appeared to be flooded in Karratha, there was obviously a demand and more could be done to facilitate greater support for new businesses.

“I think it’s more about the isolation, you’re working from home in a remote region and it’s really expensive to get out of town,” Ms Turton said.

“For me what would have been really beneficial was to have cheap flights to Perth or Melbourne for professional development; anytime I wanted to do (courses) face to face it cost me an absolute fortune so I missed out on a lot of opportunities.”

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