Broadband driving the entrepreneurialism of suburbia

A revolution is happening as reliable broadband helps businesses sprout in suburbia.

It’s official. Australia really is an entrepreneurial nation. New figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics measuring the change in the number of business entities shows small businesses are growing exponentially. In fact, in the last six years alone, the amount of businesses with one to four employees has grown 18 per cent with 285 new businesses starting every week. While big businesses still employ more workers overall, it’s small business driving the Australian economy. Something is driving Australians to “have a go” at starting their own business. Perhaps this is a result of an innovation boom with new technologies and access to universal broadband via the NBN network creating entirely new business entities or revolutionising traditional industries as we know it.

Perhaps it’s fall-out from the collapse of the mining boom, which has freed up talent to create new start-ups. Or is it the next generation of workers who aren’t as prepared as previous generations to take orders from a boss because the next generation wants to be the boss?

The kinds of businesses expanding most rapidly are those that employ less than five workers and which include the shopkeepers, accountants, lawyers, medicos, builders, plumbers, IT specialists and electricians that make our communities work. These are now the businesses underpinning Australia’s suburban and regional economies.

At the same time, big businesses in our CBDs are flat lining. Australia’s once undisputed small-business hotspot was the Sydney CBD including Haymarket and The Rocks, however, the number of businesses now located here increased by a mere less than one per cent over the two years to mid-2015.

What we are now seeing is suburban entrepreneurialism. Business numbers in suburban areas like Lidcombe in Sydney’s west have shown some of the highest growth in Australia jumping a whopping 24.5 per cent in two years. In Melbourne’s Bentleigh-McKinnon area, the jump in small business numbers was 10 per cent and in Brisbane’s Paddington the equivalent increase was 12 per cent.

Something is happening. Something is pulling or pushing new small businesses out of their comfort zone on the edge of the CBDs to new territories located closer to where Australians want to live, suburbia. But there is more to this story than meets the eye. Some parts of regional Australia, well removed from mining communities, report small business growth at rates that even outpace the population growth rates in suburbia.

I believe it’s the next generation of Xers and Ys looking for an alternative lifestyle narrative to living in the suburbs and working in the city for a big firm. I’m calling them “e-changers,” those who are taking advantage of super connectivity provided by the NBN network to take greater control of where they live and how they work.

For example, in Yass, an agricultural service town in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and a lifestyle community for commuting Canberrans, small business numbers are up a huge 19 per cent over the two years, while the iconic Albury on the south coast of the state has seen a jump of 11 per cent. These towns are the poster children for enterprising Australians making it happen in regional Australia.

The regional entrepreneurialism story is also evident in Victoria. Positioned between Melbourne and Geelong, Lara lifted its business community by 17 per cent over two years. Port Fairy, the west coast ‘sea-change’ location, grew its small business number by 13 per cent. Even Kyabram in Victoria’s fruit bowl is on the up and up with an almost 11 per cent jump in small business numbers.

In Queensland, the “e-change” trend has also caught on with small business numbers booming and outpacing the national average in the beachside communities such as Ayr near Townsville by growing almost 10 per cent. This compares with a national growth rate of barely four per cent.

How about living and working in a lifestyle town on the coast or in the country? How about setting up your own business? How about creating a lifestyle for yourself that works for you and your family? How about taking the entrepreneurial spirit from the city to regional Australia? Sound like a good idea?

Well, apparently it is because the number of net new small businesses popping up in these places is booming. In fact, small-business growth is outpacing growth in recognised business centres in the main cities. Now that is a revolution. Now that is a movement. Now that is a better way of living.

All the ingredients required to make this happen are with us now – an entrepreneurial mindset, access to fast broadband, emerging technologies and a yearning for a better non-city quality of life.

Bernard Salt, Partner, KPMG

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