I have always been proud to be a Northlander – my passion for our unique region draws me to my desk every morning – but during our nationwide lockdown that pride took on a whole new dimension.
Covid-19 turned our economic landscape upside down, and it tested the mettle of our region's businesses, and indeed of our growth advisers here at Northland Inc, in a way we could never have foreseen.
We all felt the weight of the crisis deeply, and that responsibility motivated us on a daily basis, with our hastily assembled home offices soon supporting a work schedule of unprecedented proportions.
Working as a growth adviser for our Northland Inc business support helpline during lockdown, I experienced the extraordinary trademark resilience and unstoppable can-do attitude of our regional business community every day – a community that cares passionately about its clients, its customers, about doing the right thing by its staff, and about the products and services it provides.
Our extended team of seven growth advisers knew these things already, but the crisis only served to underline it. We empathised deeply with their struggles and we know, of course, that you cannot emerge from such a situation without the scars to show for it.
It is fair to say that not one of our businesses, big or small, expected to be in a position where outside support would be required to meet payroll week after week, for example. Yet that became the new reality and, without exception, every Northland business owner I spoke to – and there have been many throughout lockdown and beyond – faced these challenges head-on.
At Northland Inc, we are committed to supporting, protecting and preserving our local economy, and the huge range of commercial operations that have played such a pivotal part in making our region the thriving place it is today.
We do this, of course, through good times and bad, and we adapt accordingly, as any business or organisation must, to ever-changing circumstances.
Indeed, during those first few weeks in alert level 4, I did not think we could get any busier, given the sheer volume of calls and emails we received. How wrong I was. Such was the impact on Northland's business community that the demand for our service outstripped anything we have seen before.
You will not be surprised to know that we had never engaged with so many businesses in such a short period of time.
Normally, in a year at Northland Inc, 2.5 growth advisers can expect to work with between 220 and 240 businesses, yet during the crisis, our team supported some 600 businesses.
Our team did not do it alone, of course. We drew heavily on our existing networks, and the Regional Business Partner Network team, the Ministry of Social Development, Te Puni Kokiri, Poutama Trust, Ministry of Primary Industries, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Callaghan Innovation, Whangārei District Council, Far North District Council, Kaipara District Council, Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management, and the Northland Chamber of Commerce all worked alongside us every step of the way.
The inquiries might have eased off during the past couple of weeks, but the work does not stop here, just because the phone has stopped ringing off the hook. As we catch up with a small backlog, we are now busy following up and touching base with many of those businesses we dealt with during lockdown, working on the process of recovery, and working to ensure that spirit of resilience carries forward into economic continuity.
Just as our businesses have shown inexhaustive reserves of energy, so we must match them as we negotiate the post-lockdown world. We've completed our sprint, if you like, in the time of crisis but, as always, we are in this for the long haul.
We know all too well that some sectors will recover more quickly than others, that some will require more innovation and inventive thinking – not to mention more support – if they are to successfully adapt to our new normal.
It was an honour and a privilege to support so many Northland businesses in lockdown. My home office remains in operation, in conjunction with our base at The Orchard in central Whangārei, and, like all of our growth advisers, I continue to be motivated daily by the need to ensure that we see all sectors across the line, whatever it takes.
• David Templeton is a growth advisor at Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency.