The closure of Australia’s international border interrupted the usual flow of working holidaymakers into Byron Bay, which is a key source of labour for the small but growing tourist town.
“That whole process got stopped in its tracks after 2020,” Mr Sheer said.
“We wanted to support the local economy and hire locally and be able to add to the local market … and that indeed was challenging.”
While the unemployment rate inched higher to 3.5 per cent in August, it remains incredibly low by historical standards and employers nationally are struggling to find workers to fill job openings.
In the Richmond-Tweed region, which includes Byron Bay, the unemployment rate plummeted to 0.9 per cent in July, its lowest level on record.
A shortage of labourers due to a building boom and recovery from flooding that devastated NSW’s Northern Rivers region has also delayed Bar Heather’s opening.
When it’s up and running, Bar Heather will serve natural wines and a menu rich in produce from the Northern Rivers.
While the restaurant is scheduled to open on October 19, Mr Sheer said he was still looking for another three casual staff.
Xero economist Louise Southall said low levels of unemployment were both a boom and a challenge for small businesses like Bar Heather.
“Of course, if there’s more people working, more of their customers are working. And that’s more likely to flow into new sales,” she said.
“But we know in the nightly news and media reports that people are finding it difficult [to fill jobs], and that’s one of the downsides from having such a tight labour market.”
Mr Sheer said rising material costs had also placed additional pressure on Bar Heather’s budget, making it difficult to plan.
“We’ve noticed things like brass, marble, spotted gum and veneer … prices have just gone up since we were last quoted a month or two ago, and it’s been pretty difficult to track,” he said.
With inflation tipped to reach 7.8 per cent by the end of the year, Ms Southall said rising costs were a bigger burden for small businesses due to a lack of pricing power.
“Often small businesses are part of their local community, and it’s a bit difficult for them to raise prices. They’re reluctant to do so [because] they know their customers very well,” she said.
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