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Ch-ch businesses had to reinvent themselves after the quakes

Ch-ch businesses had to reinvent themselves after the quakes

August 22, 2012

Christchurch businesses and organisations have had to re-invent themselves and capture new markets to cope and survive the earthquakes, according to a University of Canterbury (UC) doctoral student.

Joanne Stevenson presented her research on the issue at the Australasian natural hazards conference at the University of Canterbury (UC) this week.

As well as adapting to the changing post-earthquake environment, Christchurch businesses have had to draw on established networks and form new partnerships to access the information and resources they need to recover, she said.

In research published with colleagues from the Resilient Organisations (ResOrgs) research programme, Stevenson said many businesses during the initial period following the earthquake moved away from `survival-of-the-fittest’ business models to one that emphasised collaboration and mutual benefit.

``Within a central business district (CBD) environment, organisations have shared and worked together forming economic clusters for co-promotion and support and shared resources.’’

She said a prominent example was the enterprise precinct and innovation campus planned for the Christchurch CBD. Businesses from the information, communications, and hi-tech industry have promoted the plan to co-locate in an innovation hub within the CBD to promote collaboration and innovation.

``Many organisations have questioned when the CBD will gain the “critical mass” of businesses necessary for the area to again become a vibrant functioning city. Such co-ordinated collaborations may be the best way to repopulate the CBD. These clusters of reconstruction have reduced the risk of isolation for pioneer organisations who want to reopen in the CBD.’’

With the massive demolition and reconstruction process that will occur in Christchurch over the next decade, urban organisations were aware that there would be ongoing disruptions to their operations, but some businesses expressed concern about the anticipated impacts of reconstruction, she said.

The reconstruction of the Christchurch CBD is predicted to drive the economic recovery of New Zealand from the recession. As occurred with New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and Fukushima following the 2011 Japan earthquake, a small minority have called for the abandonment of the Christchurch CBD.

But despite ongoing uncertainties about what will emerge, there was a general commitment for the CBD to be rebuilt and re-absorb its function as a hub of economic activity for the South Island.

While CBDs offered an economic benefit to organisations, they also presented a unique set of hazard vulnerabilities and planning challenges for businesses. The inner Christchurch CBD has been cordoned off for over 18 months.

Economic activity within the cordoned CBD, which previously contained 6000 businesses and over 51,000 workers, has been significantly diminished and organisations have been forced to find new ways of operating.

In a survey, completed by ResOrgs and other researchers at the University of Canterbury, after the February 2011 earthquake, that 94 percent of organisations located within the Christchurch CBD indicated that their organisation was “located within a cordoned-off area” compared to only nine percent of organisations outside of the CBD areas surveyed, Stevenson said.

``Hospitality and retail organisations may have also found it more difficult to reopen elsewhere. Hospitality organisations have equipment and health and safety restrictions, while retailers, especially fashion retailers, tend to be more successful in clusters of like-businesses.

``As a result, the large numbers of CBD businesses that rely on consumers’ discretionary spending are more vulnerable to disasters.

``Some relocated organisations have reported finding that their new premises suit their needs better than their old premises. They realise that the premiums they were paying for a central property were not yielding financial benefits prior to the earthquake, and they have more locational flexibility than they previously believed.’’

More than 250 experts, researchers and CERA and government officials have been attending the hazards conference on UC campus this week with Christchurch taking the spotlight.

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