9 April 2024

Collaboration must be a priority for Business Illawarra following director's abrupt departure

| Kellie O'Brien
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Adam Zarth has moved on from Business Illawarra after six years with the organisation. Photo: Business Illawarra.

In the wake of Adam Zarth’s abrupt departure from Business Illawarra, one of the region’s strongest advocacy groups has called for ongoing collaboration to be a priority.

Business NSW announced a restructure and the immediate departure of Mr Zarth on 28 March, with new leadership under Central Coast-based Paula Martin, who is Business NSW’s executive director regional NSW.

RDA Illawarra Shoalhaven’s new CEO Selena Stevens said the two organisations were aligned in terms of their priorities, particularly around infrastructure and the region’s needs.

“In the general sense, it is really important that wherever the organisation leads into the future, it’s visible in its actions,” she said.

“We’re so connected and we’re such collaborators with each other and I think that needs to be an absolute priority moving forward.

“It’s too early to say whether there’ll be an impact in terms of the progression of projects in the departure of Adam.

“Whatever the future looks like, it’s important that RDA and Business Illawarra are on the same page when it comes to priorities.”

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Mrs Stevens said Mr Zarth would be greatly missed in a “region that is like nothing else”.

“The great thing about Adam is he was such a visible operator and quite public in his support of the region,” she said.

“From a business perspective, he understands the region and he understands what businesses need.”

Wollongong City Council Deputy Mayor Tania Brown believes Business NSW, has “abandoned any interest in the future economic success of Wollongong”.

“By sacking, without notice, its effective regional manager on the eve of the Easter holiday, Business NSW has thumbed its nose at thousands of small and medium employers who rely on strong local representation,” Cr Brown said.

In his role, Mr Zarth has advocated for the upgrade of Picton Road, the delivery of the Mount Ousley interchange, the development of a government business case for the Illawarra sport and entertainment precinct and a government commitment to a rail network masterplan that includes a future rail link to south-western Sydney.

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He also worked with members, stakeholders and governments at all levels to advocate for more affordable housing and the development and expansion of emerging industry sectors in clean energy and defence.

“In every forum available, Mr Zarth has been a powerful advocate for the Illawarra and its business community, and has delivered numerous major events – including the annual Illawarra Business Awards – to celebrate the achievements of business across the region,” a Business NSW spokesperson said.

Mr Zarth said since stepping into the role six years ago, he had been continually inspired by the passion, resilience and innovation within the business community.

“I know that this resilience to serve the local business community will continue in the immediate term under the leadership of Paula Martin,” he said.

“Paula has held many senior roles in Business NSW and is ideally positioned to continue the good work of Business Illawarra under a new structure.”

However, Cr Brown questioned how the new structure would work.

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“I call on the state business chamber to come to Wollongong and explain to our broader community how they intend to have a Central Coast-based employee represent the diverse local business community,” she said.

“I really want to make sure that we’ve got someone heading up Business Illawarra that can represent the interests of the region, particularly the business community.”

Cr Brown said in the past two weeks, Business Illawarra had attended the Invest Wollongong event where peak bodies were at Parliament House speaking up for the region, and a Jobs and Employment Roundtable with the NSW Government where it joined others to advocate for the region, including on regional road and rail connectivity to Western Sydney.

“Business Illawarra plays an important role in advocating for the business community, and to successfully deliver for this community, local knowledge is crucial,” she said.

“It’s hard coming into the region as a new person, but he did the work, he met all the stakeholders and dealt with a fair hand.”

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