By Andrew Hobbs

BEING attuned to the needs of the local community and proactive in pursuit of opportunities are key to ensuring the longevity of small businesses in resources centres, researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) have found.

UQ Business School associate professor John Steen told Oil & Gas Australia a recent study of 400 small and medium sized businesses in towns affected by the rise in the state’s coal seam gas developments had identified a number of common traits in successful groups.

While having the capacity to take on more challenging work was key to success during the construction phase of operations, Dr Steen and his colleagues found having strong connections with other local businesses was also important, with local chambers of commerce helpful in assisting businesses to find opportunities.

Dr Steen said that while gas project operators had generally done well in keeping local businesses informed about what they needed in the area, the study found that some had room for improvement.

“There already doing that fairly effectively but perhaps they could be a bit more open and engaging with that,” he said.

Having that a willingness to try new ventures was also important as the coal seam gas projects moved into the operations phase – a change Dr Steen said was inevitable and one companies could have easily planned for.

“Rather than saying, well, this is happening and there’s nothing I can do about it, there were successful businesses that were actually looking outside what they were doing and saying ok, well this is winding down but can I actually move onto something different?” Dr Steen said.

Some successful companies had repositioned their service offering, and some had tried to find different markets.

“I think a boom and bust is an over statement because it was always forecast from the beginning that there would be a period of time where these things were constructed and they would go to an operational phase,” he said.

But where businesses had little capacity to take on extra work, they would also often struggle to adapt to a changing environment, he said.

“We’re working with state government which provide a lot of services to businesses out there and the gas fields and rethinking the business model, business planning can help sometimes,” he said.

For some owners, it could also mean establishing an exit plan for groups that could not make the transition to a new economic model.

“You have to get ahead of the change before the change happens to you,” Dr Steen said.

Dr Steen and his colleagues at UQ will present the results of these findings at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference and exhibition on Tuesday 7 June.