The opening of the much-anticipated Sydney Metro Northwest combined with other major infrastructure developments, including improvements to major roads, has given a huge boost to business confidence in the Hills according to the 2019 Hills Performance Sentiment Index (PSI).
A record number of business owners and managers took part in this year's Business PSI survey - an initiative of The Hills Shire Council - in partnership with the Sydney Hills Business Chamber and McCrindle Research for the fifth consecutive year.
The 274 completed surveys answered 21 targeted questions to gauge current and expected business performance across a range of indicators, including conditions and sentiment.
Questions on infrastructure scored positively for the first time in five surveys with Infrastructure provision scoring 123 points in the current survey - representing a 199-point improvement since 2018. Infrastructure and Locale outlook scored 64, a 109-point improvement in 12 months (up from - 45).
Although the 2019 PSI returned an overall negative score of -2 this is seen as a consequence of Australia's national economic performance and regulatory conditions.
The indicator for red tape and regulations dipped to - 73, the lowest it has reached in five years.
However, businesses receiving support from The Hills Shire Council's Economic Development Team through Council's resources have had a measurably better experience.
Three in 10 owners who have interacted with council at some point during the past six months say government policy settings that support small businesses and assist their sector are better now than six months ago, compared to 13% of those who haven't engaged with council.
Mayor of The Hills Shire, Dr Michelle Byrne said the survey results provide insights into the challenges and opportunities business owners face and how Council can work hand-in-hand with residents and the business community to deliver better economical outcomes for the region.
Business owners and managers that have engaged the services of The Hills Shire Council over the past six months (30% of all respondents) are more likely to have seen tangible improvements in their business performance over this period than those who have not engaged the council.
In responding to the launch of the 2019 Hills PSI, Mayor Byrne said: "What I find really pleasing is more and more people are seeking the support of Council to help develop and grow both their businesses and their own skills.
"Business owners who engage with Council to access information, demographic analysis data or attend a business event or workshop are more likely to have seen tangible improvements in their business performance. This includes increases in sales and revenue, as well as a greater ability to navigate through legislation and policy requirements.
"I am also delighted to discover (from the PSI) that their future outlook for the Hills Shire remains high and hopeful, despite the rising cost of living.
"Their expectations of themselves, their revenue and their future are positive. This means we can expect great things from our local business community, and with new infrastructure, including the Sydney Metro Northwest and the widening of Showground Road, the opportunities are endless," Mayor Byrne added.
"We want to see our businesses grow and enjoy success so that they can create the jobs of the future."
So, who responded to the survey?
Just over half (53%) operate from commercial premises with most of these (47 %) located in Norwest Business Park. Micro-sized businesses employing between one and four people made up the largest proportion of respondents.
The cost of running a business remains the biggest challenge for owners and managers in the Hills who, despite rising revenue, face increased expenses and higher staffing costs.
Finding and retaining clients is a common challenge for many businesses as is finding and attracting the right staff.
The survey also showed that Small Businesses in the Hills (5 to 19 employees) recorded the highest sentiment score across all four business sizes with strong expectations for internal revenue (72) which is set to boost profits (47) and enable more staff to be hired (45). The expectation of increased business expenses is the only negative.
The priority for 80% of businesses in the next six months is sales revenue with increasing funding/cash flow not far behind (73%). Less than half of those who responded to the survey (46%) placed management and staff skills as a priority over the next six months.
Despite the overall -2 Hills PSI score many businesses in the Hills are preparing to expand their operations, employ more staff and invest capital.
In 2018 there were 3379 new businesses in the Hills.
By 2036 the number of people employed in the Hills set to grow from the current 97,015 to more than 160,000.
Projections also show that the Hills Shire's population will have grown by 66% to 290,900 residents by 2036 and the number of dwellings would have increased from 55,250 to 90,500.
Results from the PSI show that more than a third of business owners and managers are classified as active promotors of the region.
While the Sydney Northwest Metro continues to be seen as a future strength of doing business in the Hills, Lifestyle is the area's greatest attraction. The positive work/life balance that the Hills provides is seen as the greatest benefit of doing business in the Hills area (51%) followed by work culture (40%) and family friendly (37%).
It is the third year that business owners and managers have been asked to indicate what they believe are the greatest strengths of doing business in the Hills. The perceived lifestyle benefits were considered far greater than NBN connection (17%), innovation and technology (17%) recruitment options (16%) and running costs (12%) and for the first time replaced future potential as the area's greatest strength.
To review results of the PSI, or to find out more about the business support available, visit The Hills Shire Council website at: www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/hillsbusinesspsi.
The Hills Shire Council's Economic Development Team is available for business visits and can assist with demographic information, market intelligence, population forecasts and networking opportunities.