26 May 2024

'Don't be concerned about the empty shops': Wagga Mayor reassures traders as expo highlights support

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Wagga Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout speaking at the Wagga Small Business Expo. Photos: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Against a backdrop of rising rents, the high cost of living and a flat retail sector, this week’s Wagga Small Business Expo brought the community together to promote the services and support available for local traders.

The Small Business Expo was free for small-business owners and those looking to start a business, and was led by non-profit organisations VERTO and Enterprise Plus.

Wagga Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout addressed concerns about the number of empty shopfronts in Wagga and said it had been a popular talking point for decades.

“The same concerns from back then are still being discussed today,” Cr Tout said.

“What’s changed is that, whether it’s bricks and mortar, you are home on a laptop or you operate out of a van, there are different ways to run small businesses now.

“Don’t be concerned about the empty shops. They’re an opportunity to grow into one of those shopfronts in the future or you may continue to be a mobile operator.

“Small businesses are thriving. Yes, there are challenges in small businesses and always are.”

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VERTO skills and customer experience manager Matthew Eschler said the organisation worked closely with small businesses and sole traders within the Wagga and Murray River region.

“By showcasing the vast range of support services on offer, we hope to not only inspire new-business owners and give them the confidence to follow through on their ideas but also to help current business owners to take their current business to the next level,” Mr Eschler said.

“Our program offers up to 12 months of work with a business, which includes exploratory sessions such as exploring business ideas, developing a plan, and developing accredited training in small businesses and small-business coaching for up to nine months.

“The program is all about encouragement and looking at the person and helping them turn that idea into a viable one.”

Mr Eschler said there had been an increase in small businesses accessing VERTO’s services.

“We currently have close to 40 small businesses from the region involved in our program and are looking to expand on that,” he said.

“Demand is quite high, and we are ensuring we are actually helping those people who are applying.”

woman addressing small audience

Local small businesses and sole traders at the Wagga Small Business Expo.

Enterprise Plus Business Connect Program lead Court Sayer-Roberts said the expo was vital to helping small businesses.

“With the rising inflation costs, cost of living, and reduced discretionary spending … we’ve been through bushfires, droughts and COVID and trying to recover, with the high interest rates and cost of living, it’s really important,” Mr Sayer-Roberts said.

“The state-funded program offers free general business support and advice for anyone who’s looking to start, grow and adapt their business.

“The expo is all about networking, connecting and showcasing not only the Business Connect Program and Enterprise Plus and our role in the community, but also the other service providers and their important role in terms of building and strengthening regional communities.”

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VERTO provides the Federal Government’s Self-Employment Assistance Program in the Murray Riverina region. It offers financial counselling and the Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service in the Wagga region, so it knows firsthand the financial struggles that are impacting people in the Riverina as the cost of living increases.

Small-business owners struggling financially are urged to speak to their financial adviser for the most up-to-date and appropriate advice and information.

To learn more about the benefits of the Self-Employment Assistance Program, visit www.verto.org.au or phone 1300 483 786.

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