Blenheim business hub concerns raised in new report

6:25 pm on 14 February 2020

Business leaders in Marlborough fear "competition" and looking like a "council puppet organisation" if they worked together under one roof.

Business groups in Blenheim are in talks over a business hub.

Business groups in Blenheim are in talks over a business hub. Photo: LDR / Chloe Ranford

A report detailing the pros and cons of a business hub has been released by four of the region's business groups and the Marlborough District Council - who have christened themselves 'Marlborough Inc'.

The idea was first pitched during last year's annual plan, when the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce asked the council to fund a feasibility study into a business hub. The council instead offered to run meet-ups to pinpoint how to better support local businesses.

It had since held three meetings with Destination Marlborough, Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, Business Trust Marlborough and the Blenheim Business Association (BBA), the report said.

Council strategic planning and economic development manager Neil Henry said the organisations had supported an investigation into possible business hub costs, and creating a more "cohesive" business model.

But their report showed the organisations were concerned that setting up a hub would cause a loss of brand identity and independence, "community confusion", and difficulties over who owned the building and its data.

Written under the 'cons' section were people's worries, including: "[the] bad performance of one partner effecting all", "[being] tarred with the same brush" and "dominant personalities winning out".

Business Trust Marlborough also queried the potential cost of renting a space in the hub, as their current lease was $285 a month.

Benefits of a business hub included reductions in duplication, a potential reduction in costs, and a "vibrant work environment".

"[It could allow] cover while I am on holiday," one person wrote.

Marlborough Chamber of Commerce CEO Hans Neilson pitched the idea of a business hub to the Marlborough District Council last year.

Marlborough Chamber of Commerce CEO Hans Neilson pitched the idea of a business hub to the Marlborough District Council last year. Photo: LDR / Chloe Ranford

Henry said a hub would also prove Marlborough was 'open for business', and could entice central government agencies to set up.

The organisations noted under an 'insights' prompt that the business hub might need to be located outside Blenheim's town centre, and that moving in together could encourage a lower infrastructure footprint.

Henry pointed out that a business hub was not needed to build a more cohesive business system, which the organisations were working on.

The proposed system, which could be put down instead of or before a business hub's establishment, encouraged the organisations to discuss each other's services to clients and share reporting.

Business Trust Marlborough manager and councillor Brian Dawson, who could not vote on the report due to conflict of interest, said to keep or scrap the business hub was a "big decision".

He went with Marlborough Chamber of Commerce chief executive Hans Neilson to Hawkes Bay in September last year to pilfer ideas from its business hub, which covered a region, like Marlborough.

"Like all things, there's advantages and disadvantages," he said.

Hawkes Bay's business hub was "no doubt" the go-to place for businesses, but there was also "an air of very stiff competition".

"This is fine for bigger corporations, but the smallers ones have to constantly carve out a space in a client's mind," Dawson said.

"All events have multiple organisations attached to them. Sponsors don't know whether to sponsor one organisation or all of them."

Henry said the organisations would decide whether to submit a funding request to the council's 2020-21 annual plan in April, and would consider opening the meetings to others in future.

Until then, they aimed to complete several 'quick wins', like streamlining event calendars to "remove duplication", and publishing each other's business pitch to their personal websites to "helped present a united 'Marlborough Inc' face", he said in his report.

The organisations would continue to meet monthly to "improve collaboration".

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