By Denise van Huyssteen
Remember the 1960’s song, I’m a Believer? Made famous again in the 2000s by Shrek, it is upbeat, positive, hopeful and optimistic.
Albeit about romance and nothing to do with business, politics or local development, it’s a mindset we need to cultivate in Nelson Mandela Bay — optimism and belief in the potential of our metro.
This is not about looking through rose-tinted glasses. The problems are plain to see.
Drought, water leaks, potholes, vandalism, unreliable electricity supply, political instability, the severe socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment, declining local GDP, decaying public amenities and heritage sites — the list goes on, and it makes for a rather bleak view.
These challenges make it difficult to attract and retain the business investment to address unemployment, boost GDP and the local tax base, and attract investment into revitalising tourism precincts and heritage and natural assets.
On the other hand, the Bay has significant assets and advantages that can be capitalised on to the benefit of residents, tourists, business and investors:
- Two ports strategically located for global shipping trade routes as well as trans-shipping into the burgeoning markets of Africa.
- A world-class Special Economic Zone located at Coega.
- A strong manufacturing sector with depth of expertise and skills.
- Good schools and a university of academic standing.
- A connected community of young entrepreneurs and creatives in diverse sectors from IT to art and design to food.
- Close links to a hinterland rich in agriculture, agro-processing and safari tourism activity.
- Plenty of “lifestyle and leisure” attractions — the natural beauty of beach and bush, outdoor activities and watersports, restaurants and markets, game reserves and protected areas.
This positive list, too, can go on.
Many with the advantages of mobility and flexibility of choice consciously choose to stay in the Bay rather than seeking greener pastures. That speaks volumes to the lifestyle benefits of the city, despite the challenges.
The reality, however, is that the lifestyle benefits won’t outweigh the downsides forever.
Even with all our advantages, we also need to be doing much better in terms of getting the basics of service delivery right to satisfy and retain entrepreneurs, innovators and large business and manufacturing investors.
The NMB Business Chamber sees solutions on two fronts — one is to use our voice and influence, backed up by many of the investors and employers, to lobby and advocate for local government and state-owned enterprises to act in the best interests of the metro and all who live, work and invest here.
Using our voice is not all talk, however.
Over the past year, the chamber has shifted to a purposefully activist, action-oriented stance in mobilising and collaborating with our members and role players to address the challenges facing the metro.
Our Adopt-a-School initiative where businesses have stepped in to address water leaks, and the Adopt-a-Substation project to assist in protecting electricity infrastructure, are two examples.
The second solution to getting the city working again is to encourage a growth and opportunity mindset, a mental shift from the current state of resigned pessimism to a sense of hope and optimism.
We need to reignite our passion for our metro, appreciate our advantages and assets, and then work together to actively improve and harness them to the advantage of the Bay.
A resurgence campaign is the idea, not only highlighting the positive attributes and potential of the Bay to facilitate a change of mindset, but putting it into action by rallying broad participation to work together for the common good and implement tangible improvements.
There are some quick wins which can be achieved if the relevant stakeholders choose to focus on the enablers (rather than the disablers) to allow for the implementation of developments and key projects.
This approach forms part of the chamber’s recently adopted strategic plan, focused on taking action to bring about change and offer greater value to our members.
Some of the planned initiatives are already rolling out. We have received strong applications for our new SMME-focused mentoring programme that will kick off this quarter, and we are launching an Empowerment Circle aimed at individual employees and students with opportunities for networking, information-sharing and mentoring.
We are putting resources in place to strengthen our trade and investment promotion arm, BayGrow, to provide focused business support services through the Help Desk, which assists members in untangling red tape and delays in municipal processes, and the Entrepreneurship Desk supporting SMMEs and entrepreneurs.
We are also strengthening our Business Intelligence Hub to become a dedicated resource for key local economic data, information on developments and research capacity to support business decision-making.
Our task teams will continue to drive for the implementation of solutions around electricity, water, transport, logistics, safety and security related challenges.
Alongside this we are providing value-adding support to the various geographical and sectoral clusters which are starting to emerge.
Let’s make 2022 the year of less talk, more action, and believing again.
Denise van Huyssteen is the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber