Walk around the Phillip Business Centre with Tom Adam and you hear a litany of complaints about the high rents in the area. And he backs up his claims by pointing to shop after shop up for lease.
The core of the problem, he says, is that rents are just too high and there aren't enough landowners competing so rents come down.
"There's no new commercial land within close proximity to residential land," he said.
His business, Canberra Martial Arts and Fitness, is increasingly isolated as other businesses in the area succumb to what he says are sky-high rents compared to other places.
He said more needs to be done to persuade landlords to let properties rather than hanging on to them and keeping them empty.
His complaint comes as the Canberra Business Chamber releases new figures showing a high rate of business failure in the territory.
At the end of June 2020, there were 30,800 businesses in the ACT, reflecting steady overall growth year-on-year, the chamber said.
"However, the ACT has the lowest long-term business survival rate in the country: within five years, only 62.5 per cent of ACT start-ups are still trading (compared with a national average of 65.1 per cent)."
[Small businesses] are the backbone of the ACT. The only way to stop the closure rate is to have a clear plan for the future.Graham Catt, Canberra Business Chamber
He wants the ACT government to delve deeper into why this rate of closures should be higher than the national average.
"During the peak of Covid, it was to be expected that business closures would occur," Mr Catt said.
"But even before the pandemic, we had a trend of unusually high failure rates compared with the rest of Australia.
"This shows no sign of reversing, and unless we have a strong understanding of the impediments to running sustainable businesses, and the policy measures in place to address them, exit rates will continue to grow."
In the budget submission it made to the ACT government, the chamber called on Chief Minister Andrew Barr to allocate funding for a regular survey of the state of local business and the economic conditions it operates in.
"Planning ahead is critical if we want to achieve business and jobs growth," Mr Catt said.
"We hear time and again from our members that skills and labour shortages are threatening their livelihoods and this is just one of the issues that needs to be urgently addressed through a combination of clever strategy and compelling sector data."
Mr Catt said about 98 per cent of companies in the ACT were small.
"They are the backbone of the ACT. The only way to stop the closure rate is to have a clear plan for the future - to understand what the problems are, and have the policies in place to fix them," he said.
One big constraint on their growth, Mr Catt felt, was the shortage of skilled workers. He wanted a plan so that universities and other institutions of education could tailor their teaching to the needs of the economy.
"The chamber is ready to work with the ACT government on developing a blueprint for the long-term economic prosperity of the Territory, including meeting the jobs growth targets in its recovery plan."
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