A $630,000 State government grant program will support the growth and development of Western Australia's small to medium enterprise agrifood and beverage businesses.
Following on from the Expert for a Day pilot program that was designed to unlock expertise to businesses, the initiative will offer vouchers of up to $10,000 to eligible businesses, as a dollar for dollar co-contribution.
The grant program has been designed to give access to professional business support services across the areas of business planning, quality assurance, market positioning, technology, export capability development and other technical services.
Travel assistance vouchers of up to $2000 will also be up for grabs for regional agrifood and beverage businesses that wish to improve their productivity and profitability by researching food-tech or ag-tech manufacturing technologies.
The grants will be awarded to those businesses whose objectives align with growing and diversifying WA's economy through business development and increased competitiveness, technological advancement and the creation of jobs.
Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD) project manager Jon Berry said the Expert for a Day pilot program was well received and provided assistance to businesses that were looking to upskill and improve their business growth strategies.
"The pilot program gave WA businesses incentive to look at some of the opportunities and gaps in their skills and knowledge to improve various elements of their businesses," Mr Berry said.
After successfully applying for the pilot program, brothers Kim and Mike Fewster, owners of Fewster's Farm Honey, used the grant to add a new label to their brand.
Based in Muchea and selling their products predominantly into Japan, company marketing manager Mike Fewster said the business wanted the new label to highlight the fact that their honey was from WA's native forests.
"We had been thinking about starting the new French's Forest label for quite a while, so when we became aware of the program it gave us the impetus to go from thinking about it to actually doing it," Mr Fewster said.
"We engaged a young design team in Perth that was an incubator type set-up, so it was also beneficial in giving that business the opportunity to get some commercial experience as well.
"The pilot program was a great scheme because even though the amounts of money weren't substantial, it was enough to give people that encouragement to be innovative, take risks and do things that they might not otherwise do."
However Mr Berry said DPIRD had received feedback that the grants, capped at $2000, weren't sufficient enough to make a large impact and as a result increased the amounts and made it a co-contribution this time around, so that participating businesses had a bit more skin in the game as well.
"A lot of economic data, particularly looking at multipliers, tells us that manufacturing actually has the biggest job impact out of anything, so it's a really good one for the government to get behind and support," Mr Berry said.
"We also found that some businesses wanted to expand their plant and equipment, particularly with beverage manufacturing and would have benefitted from attending an expo or going to a bottling plant, so part of this funding is about giving businesses the assistance to visit places that have a piece of equipment or ag-tech they are interested in.
"We found some people had almost re-mortgaged their house to buy equipment, only to discover it was the wrong equipment, so that particular stream is about de-risking investment."
Mr Berry said the program focused on the premium value-adding end of the market where businesses could command a higher price.
"With the Coronavirus that's going on, the provenance story of WA and its clean and green image as a good source of produce is something I think we can benefit from, in what is an adverse global situation," Mr Berry said.
"However the problem for WA is that we don't have a significant supply capability of value-added products - we haven't done a lot of processing besides the meat industry."
Mr Berry said grant applications received so far ranged from food labelling, eCommerce planning, to export planning and logistics supply, with a diverse range of sectors participating.
Mr Fewster said Fewster's Farm Honey would probably make another application for assistance to further develop its brands and market products internationally.
"In the new scheme there is some emphasis on how to assess the markets you are aiming at and that's really important for small to medium enterprises that want to expand their businesses," Mr Fewster said.
"Innovative practices are what WA food producers need to adopt, because we produce a lot of high quality food and the domestic market is pretty small, so a lot of the time we have to take our product internationally.
"So the more advice we can get on how to do that, the better."
Businesses in metropolitan areas need to have an annual turnover greater than $500,000 and greater than $200,000 in regional areas to be eligible and are also required to provide a quote for the work they plan to undertake.
Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the vouchers would provide incentive for WA food and beverage businesses to expand, capitalise on market opportunities and create new local jobs.
"This program has been expanded to allow individual businesses to develop business plans or target an opportunity or challenge already identified in their existing plan - from market positioning, to digital solutions, becoming export ready or investigating new technologies," Ms MacTiernan said.
The voucher program application deadline has been extended to Friday, March 13, 2020.