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1300 Waikato businesses access support and $1.4M of funding during lockdown

More than 1,300 Waikato businesses received help from Te Waka including from the Waikato Business Support (WBS) service, an emergency support service set up by Te Waka three weeks following the start of COVID-19 Alert Level 4.

Te Waka distributed more than $1.4 million in Government COVID-19 recovery funding during Alert Levels 3 and 4 to business owners needing financial planning, business continuity, human resources and people management support.

Hamilton City Council got WBS off the ground by providing initial funding to Te Waka, the region’s economic development agency. Waipa, Otorohanga, Waitomo and Thames District Councils were directly engaged in the delivery while Hauraki, South Waikato, Matamata Piako and Waikato Districts independently delivered services and shared results to the bigger picture.

Te Waka’s Business Advisory team continues to support local businesses with access to training, funding and mentoring to assist them through the economic downturn.

Te Waka CEO Michael Bassett-Foss says while trying to proactively connect with businesses during Alert Level 4 was challenging, it was as effective way to reach out to those who ordinarily may not have sought help.

“As expected, the demand for cashflow forecasting support, other financial advice and staff planning was high in Alert Level 4. Te Waka became a single point of reliable information about what business support options were available to Waikato companies.”

Business owners facing unforeseen circumstances, overnight closure of business, supply chain disruptions and staffing issues were grateful for the support Te Waka was able to offer.

Business advisory in action

Hamilton-based NZ Sign Language agency, WordsWorth Interpreting, received funding to assist with cashflow, with their team also completing webinars in business continuity and adjusting to change.

The agency’s manager Shannon McKenzie says she immediately clicked with Te Waka business advisor Tammee Wilson.

“Our income dried up overnight. My head was in a thousand places, I was feeling the pressure and I didn’t know where to start. Tammee completely got where I was at and we hit it off straight away.

“She not only organised our funding application, but she made recommendations about which webinars would be most valuable for my team. And because some of my staff are deaf, we worked together to organise interpreters. Tammee has been there for me throughout the entire process. I’m super grateful for her support.”

Shannon also had help from service provider, Susan Cooney, who took her through a risk analysis, helped her develop a plan to mitigate the risks to her business, and prioritise what she needed to do and when.

“Having an experienced business professional like Susan to help made me feel like I wasn’t in it alone. My staff were looking to me for guidance and leadership, but it was all new to me as well. Susan understood where I was at and guided me through.”

Bassett-Foss believes the Government’s wage subsidy protected some businesses from early redundancies during Alert Level 4.

“Eighty-nine per cent of businesses we spoke with during Level 4 had received the wage subsidy, with 93 per cent having made no redundancies.

“There was also an increasing appetite for help from mentors, with almost 60 business owners matched with an experienced professional for ongoing guidance. It was heartening to see Waikato businesses being proactive about minimising the impact of the lockdown on their staff, their customers and their bottom lines.”

Level 3 fuels demand for digital and strategic planning expertise

As more businesses started back at work in Level 3, Te Waka reported a trend of owners seeking help with digital enablement and strategic planning.  

“This trend demonstrated that businesses were keen to plan and adapt to the new environment,” says Bassett-Foss. “Our team found business sentiment at the time was relatively positive as people came to terms with the situation and did what they could to get through.”

Professional support services were also in demand, particularly accounting support around cashflow forecasting.

The wage subsidy, rent relief and bank assistance were avenues Waikato businesses explored to relieve the cashflow pressure and/or expenditure incurred in the absence of ‘normal’ levels of income.

Businesses leverage online resources

During lockdown, more than 2,000 people across the Waikato viewed Te Waka’s webinars on financial planning, business continuity, human resources and people management and digital enablement.

Te Waka also brought together a network of intelligence professionals who authored articles on Resilience, Leadership, Planning and Employer Guidance, which were published online and available to view in a resource centre on the Waikato Business Support platform.

“With social distancing now a part of every day business, we have plans to keep offering our successful video call and phone support model, while continuing to deliver expert advice through digital channels.”