Feeling confident about the future? Have your say in the State Business Survey

Business leaders continue to be hugely optimistic about the state’s economy as the protracted coronavirus pandemic draws closer to an end despite unprecedented challenges over the past 18 months.

Moderated by Business SA Chair Nikki Govan (left), the BDO SA State Business Survey launch panel included (from left) Julianne Parkinson, Jennifer Lynch, James Packham and David Fechner. Picture: Ben Kelly

Moderated by Business SA Chair Nikki Govan (left), the BDO SA State Business Survey launch panel included (from left) Julianne Parkinson, Jennifer Lynch, James Packham and David Fechner. Picture: Ben Kelly

BDO has launched its 2021 SA State Business Survey, which is shaping up to provide valuable insight into the South Australian economy at a time when some sectors are booming while others struggle.

The eighth annual survey was launched at Lot Fourteen with business leaders including Jennifer Lynch (McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association CEO), James Packham (Harcourts Packham Managing Director), Julianne Parkinson (Global Centre for Modern Ageing CEO) and David Fechner (BDO Corporate Finance Partner). State Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas also attended and spoke about the results at the end of the evening.

Attendees at the September 16 launch, both in person and virtually, were given the chance to have their say on the current state of business through a series of live polling questions that will also be included in the main survey.

While confidence about the future was high, problems with attracting and keeping staff and increased support for environmental and social responsibility policies in business were strong themes to emerge.

Lynch said the McLaren Vale wine region, which spanned the primary industry, tourism and hospitality sectors, had been through a tumultuous 18 months that had included Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and associated restrictions, Chinese tariffs on Australian wine and a change of government in the United States, one of its key trading partners.

She said while the Chinese tariffs had been a blow to the industry, increased exports to other markets had given some longer-term confidence beyond the pandemic.

“When you look at 2020, not only were our exporters responding to COVID challenges, we then had some very dynamic changes in many of our core export regions,” Lynch told the BDO forum at Stone & Chalk in Lot Fourteen.

“While there has been a lot of gratitude and agility, fatigue is something that comes to mind for primary industries and value add and now we’re just looking forward to reopening and re-establishing business.”

Fechner said the 2019 BDO SA State Business Survey showed 20 per cent of respondents were confident they would achieve growth in the next 12 months, in 2020 it was 50 per cent but he said early indications at the survey launch showed the 2021 number could be closer to 100 per cent.

“There is certainly optimism out there and people are willing to spend so if you’ve got a niche you can target as a business, now is the time,” he said.

Packham said the availability of technologies such as Zoom, QR codes, Teams and DocuSign had played a huge role in helping companies survive the pandemic, associated lockdowns and the work from home changes it brought.

“We’re lucky this didn’t happen 10 years ago because at least we’ve got the technology to support what we are doing now,” he said.

“I feel optimistic and I  think time is going to cure this for us, a lot of the tools that we need are already in place.

“Every time there has been a great war, it’s been followed by an illustrious time of celebration and growth.”

Early indication from the live polling at the survey launch found there were increasing workforce challenges with labour shortages compared to previous years.

Almost 90 per cent of respondents said they were having trouble finding and retaining suitable staff compared with results in the 40 per cent range the previous three years.

Reasons included a shortage of suitably qualified candidates in South Australia, difficulty attracting suitable candidates and intense competition for the same skills.

Packham said staff needed to be recognised on a daily basis and investigations into why are needed when they choose to join a rival company.

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“There needs to be acknowledgment, there needs to be growth opportunities, there needs to be a cake on their birthday, you need to be working on it every day because, by God, your competitor is,” he said.

“The days of someone just blindly staying with you until they get their gold watch and retire are long gone.”

However, Parkinson said there were huge opportunities for the retraining of older people to fill skill shortages in the workforce but ageism was holding that back.

“Sixty-five is the old number – as we reinvent the opportunities, let’s train these people in growth markets,” she said.

“We know that our older population is more digitally adept than previous generations and what holds us back is ageism.

“The evidence is there when you combine an older worker with a younger worker the productivity lifts.”

The panel also turned its attention to the increase in respondents rating the importance of their business being socially and environmentally stable.

Early indications this year show that more than 70 per cent of people think it is very important compared with just 30 per cent in 2019 and 50 per cent last year.

However, less than half of respondents said their business had formal accreditation or policies in place to support environmental or social responsibility.

The McLaren Vale region has been a wine industry leader in the promotion of sustainability, both from an environmental point of view and to give it a marketing edge.

“Sustainability meets consumer expectations but it also provides a pathway for continuous improvement for profitable and sustainable businesses in the long term,” Lynch said.

The BDO SA State Business Survey is open for responses until September 30.

BDO is seeking your views on the day-to-day experiences of doing business in South Australia – the opportunities, challenges and ideas we can all learn from, the impact of current policies and any necessary reforms.

The survey will take 15 minutes or less to complete. By taking part, you will have the opportunity to enter the draw to win a $200 EFTPOS gift card (T&C’s). You will also receive a copy of the survey report once ready.

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