A survey on 30 March of 317 Chief Financial Officers across a broad range of industries revealed that three quarters of the companies plan to permanently move some of their staff to working remotely. This kind of change represents huge opportunities for a region like Tairāwhiti that still has comparatively low housing costs (though a real housing shortage), a relaxed pace of life and reasonable year round climate.
We’ve seen a number of technology-based companies relocate to the region in the last few years, and many more could be persuaded to establish offices in Tairāwhiti if central and local agencies can look beyond logs.
In 2014 Tairāwhiti had the Gigatown prize snatched away by some last minute rejigging of the rules and Dunedin got 53,000 homes and businesses subsidised with cheap gigabit connections. While we might argue about how transformative a similar outcome for our region might have been, the real tragedy is that the comprehensive digital plan hundreds of Tairāwhiti residents and organisations contributed to designing was in the bin within a month and never to be heard of again.
A few of the initiatives that were already happening have carried on but for all intents and purposes, the plan – which largely didn’t rely on the gigabit subsidy – has been forgotten and barely mentioned since.
A year later in 2015, the Government sought proposals for Regional Research Institutes, designed to inject research and technical capability into regions that don’t host a university. Similar to the Gigatown effort, an impressive array of Tairāwhiti businesses, local authorities and education organisations scrambled together, partnered with a group of universities and pulled together a great proposal. When Tairāwhiti didn’t get short-listed, the plan was likewise abandoned and probably never looked at again.
Successive governments have promised tens of millions to Tairāwhiti, mostly for roads and forestry-related projects – much of the cash never materialises as bureaucratic processes delay pay outs, the region can’t spend it fast enough and/or the funds get reprioritised in the next budget or election cycle.
Living near Ruatorea for the last five years, I’ve spoken with quite a few students, whanau and educators who desperately want more employment options than roading and forestry. According to Statistics NZ, science and technology is now the largest sector of the top ten contributors to GDP and agriculture is the smallest, just below retail. When I was born in 1972, agriculture was at the top of the list of ten sectors and retail was at number two.
As governments and local authorities around the world start planning for a cautious return to the new normal of post-lockdown society, the city of Amsterdam is working closely with British economist Kate Raworth who replaced economic orthodoxy with a model of the economy as a donut.
The inner ring of Raworth’s donut sets out the minimum we need to lead a good life, derived from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It ranges from food and clean water to a minimum level of housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, gender equality, income and political voice. Anyone without access to these minimum standards is living in the doughnut’s hole.
The outer ring of the doughnut represents the ecological ceiling drawn up by earth-system scientists. It highlights the boundaries across which communities should not go to avoid damaging the climate, soils, water bodies and biodiversity.
As Tairāwhiti business, political and community leaders consider options for local initiatives to recalibrate the regional economy, hopefully with central government support, let’s ensure science and technology are prioritised – both to inform the shape of our current donut, and to help design an evidence-based recipe for truly sustainable employment opportunities.