(1.56pm 23 August 2011, Parliament House Sydney)
Small and medium businesses make a tremendous contribution to the vibrancy, viability and success of the inner city, enlivening our communities, driving economic growth and providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of people. There are 18,000 small and medium businesses spread across the city of Sydney local government area. Small businesses employing fewer than 20 people make up 85 per cent of operations and medium-sized businesses employing up to 200 staff make up a third of the city's workforce. The City of Sydney annual Business Awards celebrate the small to medium independent business sector, providing an opportunity for inner-city businesses to increase their profile, expand their customer networks and take their business to the next level.
This year new records were set, with 640 nominations and a whopping 67,000 votes cast. That is a healthy 23 per cent increase in the number of nominated businesses since last year and a 62 per cent increase in the number of votes. The increase in votes reflects community awareness of just how significant local businesses are to community identity, over and above the services they provide. And the increase in nominations suggests that, despite the gloomy global outlook, Sydney's small business sector is thriving. The awards include 22 categories covering everything from fashion and beauty to food and drink, accommodation, tourism, marketing and many more. A new category for online business was introduced this year. It includes blogs, email and social networking and recognises the strong growth in the digital economy in Sydney. This category drew an impressive 21 nominations with close to 2,000 votes.
Another new category is the ANZ Fast Starter Award, which recognises fast-growing businesses with an annual turnover of more than $5 million. The continuing success of the small bar scene was reflected in nominations for a number of new venues, including Grandma's, Stitch, 13B and the Passage, while Sydney's extraordinary bike boom saw 13 bicycle businesses nominated and more than 500 votes received. Eight finalists will be selected from each category, based on nominations from owners, employees or members of the public. Winners will be announced at the awards dinner to be held at the Westin Hotel on 13 September. The awards also recognise good social and community results through the Environmental Business Award and the Lord Mayor's Sustainability Award. In 2008 the city commissioned a report about reactivating the central business district laneways and fine grain spaces.
We want to create vibrancy in the central business district and we are looking at encouraging smaller retail spaces for small businesses like cafes, small bars, galleries and specialty shops. Our Fine Grain Business Development Matching Grant Program assists small businesses to locate and thrive in the fine grain laneways and underutilised precincts of Sydney's city centre, enhancing and diversifying the central business district.
Last night council endorsed a memorandum for the reactivation of lower Oxford Street which aims to diversify the business mix and support the daytime economy. We hope that through leasing our city-owned properties we will encourage small creative retailers and enterprises. The city also partners with Sydney Water and the Office of Environment and Heritage for the Smart Green Business program, which helps small to medium businesses improve their environmental sustainability and save on their operating costs. The program provides free, hands-on advice on sustainability, water and waste audits, and a referral to subsidised energy-efficiency programs. Sustainability is smart business, and as well as saving money and saving our environment it also engages staff and gives the edge in an increasingly environmentally aware marketplace. Similarly, Woollahra Council runs the Eastern Suburbs Sustainable Business Program together with Randwick and Waverly councils, Sydney Water and the Office of Environment and Heritage providing small-to-medium businesses, including those in my electorate, with free water, energy and waste assessments. I welcome the Government's appointment of a small business commissioner to advocate for improved laws and policies on behalf of small businesses, and the payroll tax rebates for businesses that increase their full-time employees for at least two years. These initiatives will help inner city small-to-medium businesses. Small to medium business provide a human scale in our global city, which helps give Sydney a distinct character and makes it a great place to live and visit.