I’ve made some comments in the last couple of days (in my first Council committee meetings) about the need for us to put more emphasis on knowledge-based economic opportunities rather than just relying on low value, high volume exports and/or processing. I was asked to elaborate, so here are some ways Council might be involved in this issue:
(a) when Councillors speak in public on what we individually or collectively see the future prospects for the local economy are I think we have an opportunity, maybe even a responsibility, to help the community imagine what could be rather than just what is obvious;
(b) in our advocacy on behalf of the region and Council planning processes we could do everything we can to ensure that things like ultra-fast broadband, secure power supply, light industrial zones and central government investment in research and development are secured as quickly and adequately as possible – I know much of this Council has been involved with but I’m not sure the commitment, particularly from Councillors, has been as strategic or sustained as it needs to be if we want to be better positioned sooner rather than later;
(c) we can partner with other key stakeholders – like the Chamber, Polytech, runanga, NZTE and others – to develop a world-leading campaign to proactively let knowledge-based NZ and foreign businesses know all the reasons why Gisborne is the place they should be located – we have 20,000 mostly upper-middle class, educated students/graduates pouring into the district every year to party and it sounds like this year may be the first time they will get something tangible that could influence their thinking about relocating here for work, lifestyle, family, etc. The problem is there is no well thought through, comprehesive campaign that has our whole community buy-in. Someone asked who would fund such a thing – I think there are entities around that would invest in such a strategy if it was properly developed, based evidence of what has worked elsewhere and had wide local support. Tauranga struck it lucky last year when a small lab there discovered a new way of creating Titanium compounds – that team had central government support and is now looking like a $10b knowledge-based industry that will be located in their region for as long as they want it (nevermind where the Titanium comes from); and
(d) our regional expertise is growing food, farming and increasingly forestry (with still a fair bit of unique culture and lifestyle on the Coast that has some real tourist potential if it can be managed carefully) – food production is a massive global issue – we could encourage government R&D investment in this region – there is hundreds of millions available in multi-year research grants and there are a few groups here that have accessed some in partnership with CRI’s, etc. This is a major interest for runanga too – but our region probably has one of the lowest rates of access to this funding which in turn could be the basis for whole new industries and technical knowledge that can exported around the world.
Ideally an Economic Development Agency would lead this kind of thinking and suggest ways for GDC to get in behind bids, campaigns, etc. But in the absence of an EDA I think we should be working with ECT, runanga, horticulture/agriculture/forestry industries, the Ministry for Research Science & Technology and Foundation for Science, Research & Technology on some plans to establish at least one maybe two specialist research centres here in the next five years.
There are some other opportunities that I have been discussing with local stakeholders like the government’s interest in establishing NZ as an international funds administration hub for the Asia-Pacific region and their expressed intention, subject to a report recently submitted by an independent working group of experts that advises on legislative implications, to find a provincial centre that could be the incubator for this new industry which would require hundreds if not thousands of clerical positions – but also needs reliable electricity and high speed broadband. Not a highly educated workforce or the highest paying jobs, but well above what our average wages are now and some significant population growth potential to spread the rates burden (and would no doubt bring some new challenges).
Anyway, those are just a few of my quick thoughts on the subject – I hope we can keep progressing the conversation further.