Hunter Business Chamber expects a "shaking out" of unviable companies after a suite of emergency protections ends on January 1.
Many vulnerable businesses face the reversal of rules which have shielded directors from personal liability and allowed companies to trade while insolvent.
The period for temporary debt protection for debtors will revert from six months to 21 days, and the minimum debt threshold required for creditors to apply for a bankruptcy notice will fall from $20,000 to $10,000.
Businesses also face a drop in JobKeeper payments on Monday from $1200 to $1000 a fortnight for full-time employees and $750 to $650 a fortnight for part-timers.
"The tide came in, and now it's starting to go back out again," chamber chief executive officer Bob Hawes said on Thursday.
"We'll start to see companies having to fess up that they're not going to make it after all."
Personal and company insolvency plummeted in 2020 to levels not seen in 20 years.
Australian Securities and Investment Commission figures show 946 businesses entered external administration in the September quarter, down from 2309 a year earlier.
The last time quarterly administration numbers dropped below 1000 was December 1999, but insolvency experts are now gearing up for a flood of troubled firms.
The Newcastle Herald reported this week that the Hunter's unemployment rate remained stubbornly high at 8.4 per cent, 2 per cent above the state level, and thousands of people had stopped looking for work.
But Mr Hawes said businesses in some sectors, including hospitality and retail, were "screaming" for staff.
"People aren't necessarily saying they'll come back and work shifts, which is disappointing and at odds with the still highish unemployment rate up here," he said.
He said JobSeeker supplements might have discouraged some from returning to work, the absence of international students had affected the labour market, and some workers might have turned to more robust sectors such as aged care, health, cleaning and security.
He said some businesses might have to make "tough decisions" about employees when JobKeeper dropped on Monday, but many had already cut staff levels when the subsidies reduced in September.