A benchmark report released today (17 November) on five key Queensland regions has found many regional firms were quick to adapt to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic by embracing new ways to do business and introducing new services.
The Queensland Regional Innovation Benchmark Report, compiled by the University of the Sunshine Coast, surveyed almost 700 business owners and managers from Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast, Noosa, Fraser Coast, Bundaberg, Townsville, Rockhampton, Gladstone and Emerald.
It was commissioned by the Sunshine Coast Regional Innovation Project Team (SCRIPT) on behalf of Sunshine Coast Council, with financial support from Advance Queensland.
USC Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Dr Retha de Villiers Scheepers led the research, which assessed regional business innovation and the resilience of entrepreneurs and the organisations that support them in responding to the challenges that COVID-19 posed.
The findings highlight regional innovation strengths and priorities vital for economic and social prosperity in regional Queensland.
“The levels of innovation were much higher than expected,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers said. “After coming to terms with the initial shock of the COVID-19 restrictions, many small regional firms quickly started embracing different types of innovations to provide more value for their customers.
“The findings also reflect regions are a great place to innovate and contribute strongly to Queensland’s economy.
“Traditionally cities have been thought of as places where innovators gather. But now, with the influx of people to Queensland’s regions, this report highlights the innovation opportunities that the regions hold for future growth.”
Data was collected in two stages: prior and during the COVID-19 lockdown from February to May 2020; and post-lockdown from August to October 2020.
Almost half of Sunshine Coast firms and 42 percent of Moreton Bay firms reported introducing new products, services, and human resource practices in response to the COVID-19 crisis in the early stages of the pandemic, from February to May 2020.
“Post-lockdown, we witnessed high levels of new-to-the-firm innovation in the latter part of 2020, with 80 percent of Wide Bay-Burnett and North Queensland firms and 67 percent of Central Queensland reported implementing a range of innovations,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers said.
One of key areas of innovation was adopting digital strategies, which increased exponentially during 2020 across all regions, led by Moreton Bay firms who had the highest transition to digital business practices.
“Some of the health restrictions imposed resulted in many firms embracing digital work practices, remote working, accepting cyber currency, contactless delivering, and adopting smart technologies.”
“Many small firms have now adopted digital as a way to do business and connect with their customers online, which wasn’t the case in 2019,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers said.
The report found that firms that chose to innovate reported higher business performance, including improved profits, sales growth, customer satisfaction and improvements in productivity.
A number of firms, particularly in the Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast regions, turned to collaboration with other businesses and organisations during this time, with benefits including access to new markets, outsourcing of products and help to develop new products and services.
Sunshine Coast Council Economic Development Portfolio Councillor Terry Landsberg said the report findings showed that business owners were resilient and had thrived in the wake of the pandemic, largely because of their willingness to innovate when faced with a changing environment.
“The Sunshine Coast’s reputation for digital innovation is well supported by a strong entrepreneurial, collaborative and increasingly digitally oriented ecosystem,” Cr Landsberg said.
“This ecosystem consists of education programs, business incubators, co-working spaces, advocacy events and meet-ups which actively support and encourage innovation, new ideas and, entrepreneurs and start-ups.”
The report recommends that as Queensland opens up, there was a strong need for all regions to reach beyond their boundaries and facilitate information flow and knowledge transfer to stimulate innovation.
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