The Hastings District Council has voted to use money from its Covid-19 Recovery Contingency Fund to fund a pilot "carbon copy" of Ahuriri's Hawke's Bay Business Hub.
The initiative had councillors divided at the operations and monitoring committee meeting on Thursday but ultimately recommendations were passed to pilot a hub in Hastings.
The hub will initially operate out of the Tribune Precinct in Queen St East then could move to the corner of Karamu Rd and Queen St. It will be piloted from October until June 2021.
The council will fund $70,000 of the total $90,000 cost from the $1 million Covid-19 Recovery Contingency Fund and the remainder from the Economic Development Fund.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Napier City Council and Hastings District Council contribute $100,000 funding annually to Business Hawke's Bay, which operates a hub in Ahuriri.
Hawke's Bay Business Hub is home to more than 16 business support agencies including HB Regional Business Partners, NZ Trade and Enterprise, Export New Zealand, Business Central, Callaghan Innovation, Te Puni Kōkiri and others
Councillors Wendy Schollum and Simon Nixon both raised their concerns about the initiative and opposed the motion at the meeting.
Nixon felt that while it is important to support the business community, there was not enough specific information or discussion about whether or not businesses would access a hub in Hastings and how this would benefit them.
He said there was "too much punt, not enough specific".
Schollum felt the same, saying not enough research had been done to justify the $90,000 spend and said the recommendations which were brought to council had "lost their way".
"Providing only one option, the establishment of a carbon copy of the Ahuriri hub in Hastings, the recommendations assumed that the only reason Hastings businesses were not already accessing the support services in the Hawke's Bay Business Hub was the location," she said.
"There are far more cost-effective ways to test an assumption than spending $90,000, and using 14 per cent of the remaining Covid-19 recovery fund, to establish a carbon copy of a facility Hastings ratepayers are already co-funding in Ahuriri."
Schollum said that when she asked at an earlier council workshop if consultation or research had been conducted with Hastings businesses about why they weren't accessing the existing business hub support services, officers confirmed no such research had been done.
She therefore moved an additional recommendation which asked officers to report back with further detail about the actual barriers preventing Hastings businesses accessing the Ahuriri hub.
"As an SME owner, I see continued evidence that the key reason many SMEs, in both Hastings and Napier, don't use government-funded business support services is not because of location, but rather because they don't know they exist.
"Having another building lease, in which those services sit, waiting for SMEs to magically self-identify a need that the hub can service, will not fix that.
"Opening new buildings is fun, but the focus needed to be moved from simply having another building to the actual needs of the business community," Schollum said.
Nixon said although the cost is only $70,000 at the moment, if it were to be extended for a year there could be an additional cost of $130,000.
Other councillors, Kevin Watkins and mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, spoke in support of the funding.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for our Hastings small business community, close to 10,000 businesses, to have direct access to some of the Government agencies like NZTE [New Zealand Trade and Enterprise], Callaghan Innovation, business support," Hazlehurst said.
Business Hawke's Bay chief executive Carolyn Neville said the hub will make it easier for Hastings businesses to access the support on offer at the business hub.
"Having a physical presence in Hastings will make it easier for the Hastings business community to access the support that's already available, and make it easier for HBBH and its member agencies to connect with the business community, supporting business recovery."
Neville said it will also support business recovery from Covid-19 and will raise awareness of the support on offer in the Hastings business community.
Although the Hastings hub is so far just a pilot, she said Business Hawke's Bay would like to see a hub there long-term.