Northland business owners offered free mentoring after SH1 Brynderwyns closure

So far almost 100,000 tonnes of earth has been moved as work continues to repair State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns.

So far almost 100,000 tonnes of earth has been moved as work continues to repair State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns.
Photo: Supplied / NZTA

Northland business owners have put their hands up for free mentoring to help them get through the closure of State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns.

The main road to the north shut for urgent repairs on 26 February and while three alternative routes ensure people and goods can still get through, the closure is still having an impact due to higher transport costs and a drop in holiday bookings.

To help Northland businesses weather the closure, not-for-profit group Business Mentors New Zealand is offering them 12 months free support and advice from experienced business people.

There have been 55 owners take up the opportunity up so far.

Chief executive Sarah Trotman told Nine to Noon’s Kathryn Ryan times were tough for businesses around the country, due to high interest rates and inflation.

In Northland that was compounded by the after-effects of Cyclone Gabrielle and the highway closure.

Trotman said the group’s corporate partners had “paid it forward” by covering the costs of any Northland businesses that wanted to join the scheme.

While the business mentors offered their time without charge, there was usually a $295 registration fee.

“They’re really someone to walk alongside the business owner, someone to be a sounding board. The mentor won’t roll up their sleeves and do the work, but they are somebody who has been there, done that. We’ve had 55 businesses register already,” she said.

Trotman said he knew of business owners in Northland who were putting staff pay on their credit cards or mortgaging the family home, just to keep their businesses afloat.

Any business that signed up was matched with a volunteer mentor with the right personality and experience, to help them navigate a difficult time.

She said the group had 1500 mentors in total, of which 500 were not currently matched to a business – so there was plenty of capacity to take on more Northland businesses.

So far almost 100,000 tonnes of earth has been moved as work continues to repair State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns.

Photo: Supplied / NZTA

Trotman said one of the benefits of the Covid-19 pandemic was that it opened the doors to virtual, or online, mentoring.

That meant if the ideal mentor was based outside Northland, the business could still get the benefit of that person’s wisdom and experience.

Meanwhile, the head of Northland’s regional development agency called on the rest of New Zealand to keep visiting the region.

Northland Inc chief executive Paul Linton said people should not be put off travelling to Northland because detours were in place on either side of the Brynderwyns.

“We’re keen to have everybody keep coming up. Things are tough all round – retail stores are struggling across New Zealand at the moment – and it’s no different here in the North,” he said.

“Saying that, the tourism industry had a really good summer. We’re just keen to let people know that you can still come on up and support those businesses. We don’t want people turned off by the fact they think the road’s closed.”

During Easter, from 28 March to 2 April, the highway would be open to all traffic.

Originally the Brynderwyns were to have closed from 7 February, the day after Waitangi Day, which sparked grave concerns from Bay of Islands tourism businesses in particular.

A meeting called by the Kerikeri District Business Association led to the formation of a steering group comprising business associations, Northland Inc, the Chamber of Commerce, Northport, freight carriers, iwi leaders, tourism industry representatives and the region’s mayors.

That group had worked with NZTA Waka Kotahi to come up with what Linton called a “hybrid” solution of closing the highway in late February and reopening temporarily for the Easter break.

While there was no one set of dates of that suited every business, that was still a much better outcome.

Linton said Northland Inc had also set up a business resilience programme to help the region weather future crises.

It was based on a post-cyclone survey of 270 Northland businesses, which exposed serious gaps in resilience if the region was hit by another major storm.

The programme aimed to upskill Northlanders in business fundamentals, business planning, organisational culture and leadership.

“What we’re trying to do is raise that resilience level, so should we have more events like this, small businesses are going to be much more resilient and able to survive,” he said.

The repairs to State Highway 1 are due to be completed on 12 May.

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