As a body formed to represent a unified voice for Chambers of Commerce throughout the Bega Valley, the Bega Valley Shire Business Forum has achieved much since its inception in 2000.
The Business Forum has eight Chamber members representing Eden, Pambula, Merimbula, Tathra, Bega, Bermagui, and Cobargo, with the Bega Valley Shire Council as the only government body member.
The Forum has been successfully in existence for 18 years and is credited as being the first and most successful example of a combined shire-wide business organisation in NSW. In fact, the RDA has recently set up a South Coast Business Forum based on the Bega Valley Shire model.
The recent decisions of the NSW government to acquire land at the old Bega hospital site for a new TAFE centre for the region is seen as the culmination of many years of work by the Business Forum as the representative body of all Chambers of Commerce in the council region.
Extensive surveys to local business owners, schools and our youth had highlighted the massive financial burden on both businesses and families of our young people with the requirement for apprentices to travel hundreds of kilometres to study. This information was relayed to government at all levels with requests for action to address the problem.
The Business Forum also set up and ran Sapphire Coast Tourism at the request of the council after the decision to move tourism away from being an in-house council body absorbing more than $1.5m of the council budget each year. Twelve months later the Council called for nominations to form the Sapphire Coast Tourism board which operated to promote tourism very efficiently until this year. A sincere thank you must go to Bruce Leaver and the board members who gave their time as volunteers for so many years to support a major industry in this shire.
The Eden wharf/attenuator projects have been supported since the suggestion of cruise ship visitation and proposals of a state of the art marina for visiting yachts. Many references and letters of support have gone to ministers both federal and state in an effort to assist in gaining funding for both projects.
At the time when Merimbula Airport was run by a committee of council the Forum recognised the very poor state of the terminal building and needs for upgrading of the runway if the area was to remain at all competitive. Several meetings with all interested bodies ended with the Forum throwing its support behind the airport being leased to a private contractor in an effort to achieve much better services for those using the airport. What a great outcome with Ian Baker and Ron Finneran undertaking such a massive task to completely renovate and upgrade the terminal, oversee the transformation of Merimbula Airport into a smoothly operating hub and increase the profile of Merimbula as a significant port.
GST online shopping has always been an important issue for the Forum with several meetings with our federal members, firstly Mike Kelly and later Peter Hendy, to ask for GST to be applied to online shopping to protect our retailers who risk everything to open a business in regional areas. At last the federal government has recognised this is an area of importance but sadly not before many small businesses have closed their doors because of the disadvantages they faced.
At present the Forum is working with the council to ensure that a much fairer system is introduced in relation to funding of tourism promotion. We need a system where all who benefit contribute rather than just those with a commercial rate. If this was to happen a significant boost to promotional funding would be achievable.