Tuesday, 5th May, 2020

Wanaka’s Business Community- Serving the beating heart of our community

By Naomi Lindsay, Executive Officer, Ignite Wanaka

Wanaka’s downtown area could arguably be called the window to the soul of our community.

Our wonderful lakefront is a beacon and our local businesses provide a place for congregating, networking and connecting our people.

Look beyond the CBD and you’ll see businesses throughout the Upper Clutha showcasing that same community heart and soul to fellow locals and visitors, every day – taking pride in delivering exceptional service with passion.

With a population of more than 13,000 (based on 2018 census figures) Wanaka might be considered a small town. But with about 3,000 GST returns filed across the Upper Clutha each year, you’d be hard pushed not to find someone in Wanaka who’s connected to a business and reliant on our local economy.

Many businesses have been built from the ground up over years, with passion and people at the fore. Working long hours and wearing all the stresses of being an employer – hiring staff, keeping staff, continuously-changing compliance issues , regulatory procedures and costs such as licences and consents – it’s not quite the ‘easy ride’ that some may think.

It’s not just about providing employment for our community, though.

I don’t know any business in Wanaka who does not give back to our community consistently and generously, from outright donations of cash, contra and goods, to volunteering time for events and sports clubs or raising funds for community groups with unique initiatives.

Then there’s our essential Search and Rescue and Wanaka Fire Brigade volunteers, who own businesses or work in our town and have permission from their employers to drop everything, should their skills be needed to help save lives. Living in a remote alpine environment, these essential people are crucial to our community and without gainful employment we run the risk of losing them. We also risk losing other essential workers, including our future governance candidates for sports and community groups, council, the community board to name but a few.

Wanaka Airport employs more than 200 people across a number of businesses and is an essential lifeline providing crucial air connectivity during natural disasters or other emergencies. Without thriving, successful businesses running every day, this lifeline is at risk.

Then there are our remote workers who live and love Wanaka but travel out of town for income and bring that income back here, which bolsters our economy further.

What about our tourism operators and accommodation providers who share our paradise with others, helping create lifelong memories that guests will cherish forever? We are lucky to live in such a wonderful place and even luckier that our community enjoys sharing this with others.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is first and foremost a health emergency. Without healthy people, we do not have a community and we do not have thriving businesses. Secondary to this is the obvious economic emergency we are seeing and will continue to see as we enter the recovery stage.

I believe that our businesses are the veins and arteries providing life to the beating heart of our community, without which our community as we know it would cease to exist. Can you imagine losing your favourite business overnight? Not having that coffee/burger/dress/pint/pizza that you’re used to getting on a regular basis? What about community and sports clubs/groups/events folding due to lack of volunteers or funding? I can’t imagine that, it’s a tough pill to swallow.

It’s an incredibly difficult time for all of our community right now, including the vulnerable and migrant workers who find themselves far from home. But it’s important – now more than ever – that we rally behind our local businesses and support local where we can. The consequences of losing businesses is akin to cutting off circulation and eventually oxygen.

Forget that online purchase or trip to a big-box store out of town (when we can drive there).  Stay local, buy local and support local. In doing so we have every chance of ensuring our businesses not just survive, but thrive during the recovery stage. Then, hopefully, they will be able to once again support our wider community through their generosity, support and connections.

It’s simple really, Love Wanaka now and it will love you back more in the end.

Kia Kaha



Naomi Lindsay has been the executive officer for Ignite Wanaka for almost five years and lived in the Upper Clutha for six years, prior to which she lived in Queenstown for 12 years.