City commerce group 'at the crossroads'

A BOLD plan by Warrnambool’s traders and business organisation Commerce Warrnambool aims to lift the city’s profile and attract more visitors.

The group is seeking support for the Business Improvement District Program which, based on rates notices, would add between $100 and $6000 a year from each business to implement its strategy aimed at developing, marketing and promoting the city.

The average retail, commercial and industrial properties in the city would pay $446 annually, a little more than $1.20 a day, in an attempt to raise $600,000 in 2014-15. 

While some CBD business operators have indicated a reluctance to contribute to the scheme, Commerce Warrnambool board member and local businessman Tony Herbert said the volunteer group was “at the crossroads” and would need to be financed to improve its outcomes.

As one of Victoria’s few regional centres without a chamber of commerce, Mr Herbert said the long-term proposal strived to make Warrnambool a place people wanted to live, work, study and shop.

“We believe we need to do this as a way to compete with regional centres doing a better job of promoting to tourists and keeping residents from leaving,” Mr Herbert told The Standard.

“This was considered the best and most effective way of raising some money for Commerce Warrnambool to actually do something.

“We’ve been operating for the past four years through volunteers and it’s been hard to be an organisation with weight and opinions without any resources.”

As well as improved communication and advertising, the Commerce Warrnambool program would aim to run various expos, work experience programs, forums and community initiatives to show businesses, students, workers, tourists and shoppers the benefits of Warrnambool. 

Mr Herbert said he expected some hesitance from certain business operators, but it was a case of “spending money to make money”.

“This thing won’t be imposed on people. Some will see this as another charge, another levy, another rate.

“I appreciate that times haven’t been great, especially in retail and other sectors throughout the city, but I think personally as a whole, can we afford not to do it?

“I really hope that’s the way businesses can see it.

“It’s a charge that hopefully will make Warrnambool a greater business centre.

“We really would love to see some enthusiasm because we are part of a very small number, two or three in Victoria, that doesn’t have a chamber of commerce.”

Warrnambool City councillor Brian Kelson, owner of Gateway Jewellers, said he agreed with the aims of the program but did not believe business owners would buy in.

“It’s all very admirable, there’s no doubt on that ... but I can’t see the businesses of Warrnambool being able to afford that,” he said.

Warrnambool business owner and councillor Peter Hulin, along with Cr Kelson, suggested Commerce Warrnambool should alternatively be funded by the council’s waste collection fees charged to businesses.

“It’s beyond belief that council in Warrnambool thinks that businesses at this stage could handle another cost on their business,” Cr Hulin said.

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