BY AMANDA GOODDY
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
I’d like to thank Economic Development Australia for the opportunity to participate in the Overseas Study Tour. The tour has provided me with international exposure to the challenges impacting bricks and mortar businesses during construction projects. Together with this research, and what I’ve implemented on the Sunshine Coast, I’ve developed a framework to support business continuity during construction.
A few years ago, I began a journey to look at how business advisors and economic development officers can provide better support to business owners in the lead up to construction projects. This lead to investigating methods and best practices around Australia and the world. After investigating what support was available to businesses globally, I produced Australia’s first Business Continuity – A guide to doing business during construction and road upgrades guide. The guide aims to better prepare business owners in the lead up a construction project.
Following the roll out of the guide in the Sunshine Coast during one of our major projects, and associated activities, we identified additional opportunities to support businesses. I wanted to develop a framework that provided best practices in three areas, business engagement, business support and activation during construction. A framework that could be applied to projects of all sizes across Australia. With the support from
Economic Development Australia Overseas Study Tour, I was able to travel to New Orleans to examine a region that has undergone a decade of construction and rebuilding projects, following the damage that occurred during Hurricane Katrina.
WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT?
Construction, road works and infrastructure upgrades are happening in all regions across Australia. In many cases, they can have a disruptive output on small business. Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and provide a variety of functions that are important to our growing regions.
When investment and upgrades occur around the globe they mostly provide positive economic outcomes for regions and communities. However, it’s during the construction of the projects and the disruption that occurs, that can have negative impacts on small to medium businesses. The disruption caused by noise, detours, and closed footpaths can deeply impact a business’s revenue.
THE BIG EASY
While in New Orleans I examined two projects; the Southeast Louisiana Urban Control Project and the City of New Orleans, French Quarter Infrastructure Improvement Project, which is part of the Cities Capital Improvement Program, both projects highly disruptive to small business. The French Quarter Infrastructure Project is a joint venture project between City of New Orleans, Department of Public
Works, Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans which involved the revitalisation of Bourbon Street.
If you’ve been to New Orleans, there’s a good chance you’ve been to Bourbon Street in the world famous, French Quarter. New Orleans attracts millions of visitors each year, including those visiting for the vibrant Mardi Gras, Carnival or one of the many festivals held throughout the year. Located in the French Quarter is Bourbon Street, renowned for its party atmosphere, door to door bars and parties that overflow out onto the street. The road (closed off to traffic during the evenings) is filled with buskers, jazz bands and visitors celebrating pre-wedding weekends, birthdays, football celebrations and weekends away. This 13-block strip, also happens to be one of the most visited places in New Orleans.
During the day, it’s moderately busy, tourists from all over the world visit, stock up on souvenirs, listen to the jazz, or escape the humidity by popping into one of the many bars on the street.
In some blocks, footpaths are uneven and unsafe. Due to insufficient drainage underneath, muddy old water pools on the road, following the morning wash down from the previous night’s festivities.
During the night it’s a completely different scene, it’s a sensory overload. Hens and bucks partying the night away, football fans celebrating their teams wins, newlyweds with their wedding parties sipping on daiquiris. It’s shoulder to shoulder and noisy with southern charm.
Thousands of visitors are drawn to Bourbon St each night, with many partying into the earlier hours of the morning.
The Capital Improvement Program includes over 200 road and infrastructure projects across the region. $2.3 billion is being spent of local and federal funds across New Orleans to repair and restore damaged infrastructure. To support the upgrades, the City of New Orleans implemented the Strategic Engagement Office to assist with the communication and outreach of the Capital Improvement Program ensuring the community and business owners were updated about all projects.
Included in the program is the French Quarter Infrastructure Improvement Project which is a multimillion reconstruction on Bourbon St. The project includes:
- Remove and replace the existing pavement
- Replace and upsize the existing drain lines
- Replace the existing water lines
- Repair the existing sewer lines
- Added conduits for safety cameras and moveable bollard system
- Replace existing low-pressure gas lines with high pressure gas lines
- Replace / repair existing underground electrical conduit
To develop the framework, I looked at what processes and procedures were used on each project which included:
- Business engagement process – How and when are businesses engaged?
- Business support services – What is delivered for business owners including upskilling?
- Activation during construction – What if any activities are delivered to stimulate spending
The Bourbon Street project had been talked about for some time before the green light was given, so many businesses on Bourbon Street were aware it was going to occur. However, many were underprepared for the length of the disruption. When the budget was allocated, the team began engaging with business owners and communicating project timelines, expectations and how the construction would likely impact the business etc. The team had less than a month before the construction would begin to prepare businesses owners.
Public consultation meetings were held in both the mornings, and evenings, to capture as many businesses as possible. A database was established to update business owners throughout the stages of the project. Businesses were provided with fact sheets with key contact numbers and resources available to support them.
Unfortunately, when the fencing, which was wrapped in a black material, was erected to stop the leakage of dust, it was not well received. The material used, meant the area became darker at night, this caused a perception of an unsafe area to walk.
The construction zone made it difficult for visitors to get to their hotels as the road was closed off to vehicles and taxis arriving from the airport. Pedestrian access had also been significantly reduced. Delivery drivers were unable to deliver stock to business owners, and waste needed to be coordinated at an agreed location. Something that could have easily been coordinated and planned if sufficient timing was allowed.
Delays on the project occurred almost daily, either due to the conditions of the underground utilities or bad weather. New Orleans also experienced severe flooding during the project which caused more delays to the project causing further disruption to business owners. Despite the many delays, business owners were updated weekly via a status email and the project team also coordinated conversations on the corner, a face to face update by the contractors.
Radio and marketing campaigns were held across the region encouraging locals to continue to support business owners. The campaigns included the following context:
“Locally owned businesses are the backbone of New Orleans’ culture, economy, and character. While drainage system improvements and road construction make “shopping local” a bit more challenging in the short term, the critical improvements mean our city will be safer and stronger for generations to come. We hope you show love to your community by shopping small and shopping local—even if it takes a little extra time!”
Hotels, accommodation providers and business associations urged visitors to continue to support businesses being directly impacted by the construction. While some savvy business owners leveraged from the disruption and named drinks after the construction. When speaking with the French Quarter Business Association one of the concerns that was raised was the locations of where the contractors were
parking their personal vehicles. The French Quarter has limited parking as it is, when parking was reduced due to the construction zone it left parking more competitive yet in some instances the contractors where using these car parks. (A common complaint in many projects)
Below is a table of some of the key activities delivered in support of small businesses on Bourbon Street.
In all the projects I’ve researched and examined over the past three years, this project would have to be one of the most complex and challenging projects I’ve ever come across. It came with an aggressive timeline, ageing infrastructure and large visitor numbers.
Following the lessons learned, a new approach has been applied for stage two of the project which began in Sept 2018, some of these include; More efficient work planning, improved fencing with the Arts Council designing a more aesthetically pleasing wrap, highlighting the historical significance of the project. Contractors have been designated a carpark and have been asked to avoid using the car parks in the French Quarter. Contractor incentives have been introduced to encourage a timely finish.
The study has resulted in a framework being developed, aimed at directly supporting small businesses in the lead up to construction, Supporting Small Businesses Through Disruption of Major Project – A framework to support business continuity. The framework highlights cases in both the Sunshine Coast and New Orleans, where evidence shows the benefits to small business when business advisors and economic development officers take a proactive lead on this topic. It includes steps and actions to take to prepare business owners, to provide them with the best chance of survival.
It is in my opinion, when a proactive approach is taken, business owners are much more prepared, more informed and more responsible to act to mitigate the impact, reducing the negative media