Opinion Support small business to drive Canberra's economic recovery

If the commercialisation of university research works for Stanford University and MIT, then it can and should work in Canberra, writes Andrew Blyth.

small business

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OPINION: Hours after delivering his second budget, Treasurer Joe Hockey took to the podium in Parliament's Great Hall to address an enthusiastic gathering of supporters, donors, industry leaders and small business owners still in shock over what Australia's 2 million small businesses had just won. 

The $5.5 billion suite of measures offering tax cuts, unlimited tax deductions and an accelerated depreciation package and abolishing the fringe benefits tax on portable devices is aimed at stimulating the economy, creating jobs, and providing tradesmen, cafe owners and farmers with wholly tax-deductible tools, cappuccino machines and fences. 

The Treasurer reflected on childhood memories of the struggles faced by his parents while running a small business and how those events shaped who he was today and this budget: to encourage people to have a go, help small business be the engine room of innovation and to succeed.

His recollection of the determination of his strong mother and proud father to succeed in business despite the odds resonated with each small business owner in the hall.

Every morning, Canberra's 26,000 small business owners set about running their newsagents, cafes, gift shops, fruit and vegetable stores, restaurants and home appliance stores to grow the economy, create jobs and provide financial security for their families.

Their entrepreneurial spirit is infectious and makes you proud to know these people, yet a large number of Canberra's small business owners are facing challenges. 

The public service cuts by both the former and current federal governments have had a financial impact on small business. This is obvious when talking to small business owners or when walking through major shopping centres. It is reflected in the ACT recording the lowest business survival rates in the nation. 

While business diversification is being driven by the ACT government, more must be done to drive entrepreneurial opportunities in our city.

From my experience of living in Austin, Texas (a university city in one of the fastest-growing states), the way the private sector and government agencies combined to drive economic growth, jobs and prosperity was impressive. 

Given the economic climate, the ACT government needs to consider increasing business and industry development funding ($10 million) to at least match the amount spent on tourism and events ($40 million) and adopt a more aggressive approach to attract large corporations through special taxation measures and performance-based incentives. 

Additional tax relief, financial assistance for employing young people, commercial revitalisation strategies and policies to drive economic development throughout the region deserve attention. A second priority is small business investment resulting from Canberra's world-class tertiary institutions. 

We are known across the nation as the "knowledge capital" and that reputation brings significant business opportunities, particularly in the field of innovation. 

While Western Australia has the mines, Canberra has the minds, and we must do more to capitalise on them. If the commercialisation of university research works for Stanford University and MIT, then it can and should work in Canberra. 

The federal budget goes some way to making it easier to start and run a business. It is incumbent on the ACT government to put its cards on the table as Canberra's economic future rests with the success of small business.

Small business owners deserve our full support.

Andrew Blyth is principal, Andrew Blyth & Associates, an adjunct lecturer at UNSW Canberra at ADFA, and a small business owner.

This opinion piece was first published in the Canberra Times.