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Suffolk businesses trying to be positive

PUBLISHED: 03:22 12 October 2001 | UPDATED: 15:18 03 March 2010

TRYING to look on the bright side of life is never a bad thing, a positive attitude gives hope.

And this is the approach being taken by the majority of companies surveyed in Suffolk although everyone was in no doubt that these were difficult times.

TRYING to look on the bright side of life is never a bad thing, a positive attitude gives hope.

And this is the approach being taken by the majority of companies surveyed in Suffolk although everyone was in no doubt that these were difficult times.

The impact was great. The date – September 11 – was included in conversations unprompted and

everyone reported that business had tailed off in the first few days following the American atrocities.

Even in cases where this had not been specifically noticed, everyone was aware of the feeling of gloom, uncertainty and even fear.

But today the market place, in the main, is business as usual. And although the crunch could be still to come, no one was viewing defeat as an option.

Nationally and internationally, however, the story is not so reassuring and many industries have suffered immeasurable losses.

Aviation is a prime sector and this week the latest blow to the industry came with the announcement that British Airways would be cutting the pay of 36,000 workers.

And Renaissance Cruises, the company which sent Ipswich its first cruise liner, has gone to the wall as a result of the terrorists' impact.

Owners of Renaissance Eight which docked at Ipswich Port at the end of June this year and was welcomed by a jazz band and leading town officials is in the hands of the receivers.

It might not be a local company, but it was seen as a good tourist boost for Ipswich and its loss is important.

While gauging the local view the cross section is only representative of the whole picture but it does show that although morale is down, business is definitely not out.

TOURISM to Ipswich is suffering with a clear shortage of American visitors and this could mean that less money will be spent in the area.

At the town's Tourist Information Office, manager David Stainer said: "This time of the year we are very much aware of the American tourists who come in to see us and now the numbers are noticeably fewer."

He believes that this is mainly due to the USA advising its citizens not to travel abroad unless absolutely necessary and he can see the logic to their feeling of vulnerability.

Mr Stainer said it was too open-ended to judge how things will be in the future.

"This is a unique situation and we have no idea how long it will go on. The Gulf War was different with a visible enemy.

"Who knows how long it will be before things get back to normal but we will look on the bright side," he added.

Still on the tourism front, Sally Eaton who runs her own travel firm, Instant Holidays said she is likening the current situation to that which happened during the Gulf War when leaving home ground was not a priority.

"But that was quick and things soon picked up. This time it is different and for the two weeks after the attacks on America I made no bookings at all.

"Then prices came down and in the next week I did as much as I could have done in three weeks beforehand.

"The main fear for holidaymakers is that they will get stuck somewhere and not be able to get home. They are not fearful of flying just of not being able to get back again," she added.

And Marja Alford, assistant manager of Fred Olsen Travel at Felixstowe, said bookings had really started to pick up again in the past couple of weeks.

There had been a downturn – especially on USA flights – immediately after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, but confidence was now returning.

"People are perhaps not travelling as much to the Middle East, and are being sensible and taking advice issued, but business is back to normal," she said.

AT the Tower Ramparts Centre in Ipswich customer numbers are about the same as this time last year but fewer smiling faces are being seen, said manager Mike Sorhaindo.

"Since September 11 the mood has changed and there is an element of gloom hanging over everywhere and I think this is because people are worried about what will happen.

"And being close to military bases, a lot of people will be concerned about friends and relations.

"When anxiety hits a lot of people take some comfort out of spending and I think this could be why there has been no real change in sales," he added.

However, small businesses are undoubtedly going to be hit, believes Ipswich butcher George Debman, who was already being hit before the events of September 11.

"I don't really know what it is, the foot and mouth problem has certainly played a major part for me. But there is more to it," he said.

He has also noticed the mood of his customers has changed: "people are different they are not so relaxed and to a degree there is an atmosphere of sadness about."

Retailing in Hadleigh seems relatively unhampered. Steve Johnson who runs the King's Head in High Street, said that although the pub was noticeably quiet after the terrorist atrocities, business had now picked up.

"In the first couple of weeks there wasn't anybody coming out at all but it's levelled out a bit now," he said.

"All the pubs are a bit down. People were glued to their television sets to start with and now the war has started they are going back to them but I think it's worn off a bit."

Collage Design, a Lady Lane Industrial Estate stationary producers said that they had experienced no ramifications from events in America.

"We are in the midst of our Christmas contracts at the moment," said Angeline Barnes, PA to the managing director.

"Our production company is based in Italy so luckily we have not been affected by events in America."

And on the High Street, booksellers The Idler said they too had not been effected.

"Everybody wants to chat about it of course but business here or on the High Street has not really been affected," said owner Bryan Haylock.

ON the property front potential house buyers are sitting back and taking stock of the world situation, said Tim Golding of Suffolk's Estate Agents in Ipswich.

He said: "When you think about moving home it's a big step for people to take, so if there's any insecurities, whether it's a change of government or in interest rates, people are apprehensive.

"People are still moving but there has been a slight downturn in interest."

At Strutt & Parker, Torquil Mcleod, added: "Immediately after the atrocities we did have two or three days of very quiet trading in which we were very short on enquiries.

"The remainder of September was actually quite productive with the reduction of interest rates.

"Those who were going to move are still going to move whatever happens – we did anticipate a downturn at the top end of the market, but in East Anglia, country homes are still good value."

ROB Smith, the manager of Ipswich Port said that everything is as normal and with their business being mainly at the bulky end of trade – grain and timber – he has no reason to suspect things will be affected.

"I have certainly heard of no warning signs from any of our customers and businesses and with no indication of when or if things might change, we are carrying on as normal," he said.

The roll-on, roll-off container sailings are also continuing as normal at the port.

Ron Gosling, managing director of WG Gosling & Sons, an engineering company in Knightsdale Road, Ipswich is confident for the future.

He said the world economic slowdown before September 11 had affected the company, but it appeared to have levelled out and not got any worse.

"You have to take your mind back to when the US and Britain went into Kuwait.

"The situation lasted six months but the economy soon recovered, as it did after the Falklands War. It's surprising how time heals. I don't think we will have a world war situation – I think it will get resolved."

Geoffrey Cobb, managing director of AC Harding Ltd, said the events of September 11 were not yet having a direct impact.

He did add, however: "It is obviously an additional problem to the slow down in world trade, and it would be sensible to say that any impact on jobs lost in the airline industry, will obviously have a knock-on effect for the rest of the economy.

"There are now clients who are thinking that instead of going ahead with building projects, they will hold off until things settle down, and that will affect us."

For Rodger Oatley, who owns Caterhire, in Ipswich, September 11 became very personal when two of the guests due at a party he was catering for were killed when the twin towers collapsed.

This party and some others have been cancelled, but Mr Oatley said: "We are still buoyant. This has been our busiest year yet, despite the foot and mouth crisis which also affected bookings.

"But we won't know the full extent of September 11th impact until maybe next year, because people make bookings with us months in advance."

The businesses in Woodbridge surveyed said the effects have not reached them at all.

Tracey Davies from J R Creasey Ltd in Hamblin Walk, said that their regular customers have stayed loyal: "We have not noticed any difference here. We are quite well established in Woodbridge and have a lot of customers who are the same every week.

"A lot of the customers often just come in here for a chat so I am not expecting it to hit us badly."

And Patrick Hockley, owner of the Aldeburgh Fine Food Company in New Street, Woodbridge, said he has found more people are coming into the shop to buy good food to take home rather than eat in a restaurant.

He said: "I have had people queuing up to get in here – I think they are comfort eating and staying in the safety of their own homes."

Cash Converters which has branches in Ipswich and Colchester has experienced no upward trend in customers wanting to sell goods and raise money.

Manager at Ipswich, Jason Cornwell, said: "On the 11th and the 12th of September it went really quiet, the atmosphere was very down as was expected.

"This is leading up to our busiest time of the year and so far things are more or less the same," he added.

There has been no dramatic changes at Hawk Express, in Ipswich either and Harley Wenman, manager of the delivery firm, said: "We would not notice anything major at this time of the year because this is when we are in a growth curve between now and Christmas.

"Our business is reasonably reliant upon the docks and shipments arriving so the slight lull we had after September 11 was down to other issues and not cargoes which had been in transit for a few weeks anyway.

"It will be a better picture in the spring but we are feeling optimistic," he added.

Another Ipswich haulier, who asked not to be named, agreed that it was too soon to see any signs of a backlash from world events but he was preparing for the effects to hit at some stage.

"It is our belief that we will notice the difference in the coming months and in this industry it is likely to be as a result not just of uncertainty but of increased fuel costs," he added.

At Felixstowe, Bob Daniels of Seawing International – a logistics company dealing with trade worldwide through the port – said the summer period had not been as slow this year as expected.

He was now looking forward to the Christmas trade, usually a busy period of the year, though it was too early to produce figures.

"I think some people are being cautious because there has been general talk of gloom and despondency and people may feel the pinch after Christmas if things do not make a good start to the New Year," he said.

Haulage firm Goldstar Trading, of Fagbury Road, also in Felixstowe, said it had been having a "fairly good year" and had not yet noticed any signs of a recession.

"We are expecting a downturn but the knock-on effects of events worldwide take time to feed through to business at the bottom of the chain – usually around six weeks – and we are just waiting to see what happens," said a company spokesman.

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