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Regional Collaboration Supports Local Economic Development

Regional Collaboration Supports Local Economic Development

This week saw business, economic practitioners, education and civic leaders from across the country gather in Carterton for two-days of learning and sharing at an Economic Development event – ‘Building Resilient Local Communities’. High profile speakers, economist Shamubeel Eaqub and education strategist Dr Linda Sissons, joined a panel of regional and local speakers. Hon. Stephen Joyce, Minister for Economic Development, broadcast a message to delegates identifying national areas of growth in education, seafood and horticulture and specifically for Wairarapa: tourism, red meat, ITC and manufacturing industry growth.

Speakers identified global trends impacting on business activity such as ageing populations and web-based development opportunities across emerging industries, such as cyber-security. Discussions ranged across sectors, issues and ideas. But the key messages were clear: the need for cross-sector responsiveness and collaboration, and greater investment in people to develop home-grown talent. Education and industry must work closely together – nationally and locally – and must act quickly to upskill our existing and future workforce to maintain a prosperous economy.

“There is an ongoing global battle to attract industries, talent and investment in support of regional economic growth and sustainability. We heard that there needs to be a better balance between attraction activities and investment in local people,” said Colin Drew, GWRC Wellington Regional Strategy Office, and conference manager.

Collaboration is key and region’s must play to their strengths. But, delegates were advised that employers must be encouraged to be realistic in their expectations of young - or even older workers transiting into new fields. If employers want employees to serve their business interests and see a career pathway they must invest in their professional development. Educators need to be responsive in both subject area and delivery, while business needs to be more active in providing employment opportunities. Young people must be enabled to think broadly about opportunities and supported to access them and this can be a role for civic leaders and the wider community.

“Locally we can take action to support people into career pathways. Wellington’s businesses need workers across the sectors. And workers need jobs. For students, entry level employees and even those with experience, cost barriers can restrict job market access. Transport costs to the city – and it’s not cheap when they get there. There are both social and economic barriers for urban youth wanting to explore rural opportunities. As a region we must take action to join the dots between employers and employees.”

“An interesting concept we heard about was reverse mentoring. Representatives of high tech-based industry highlighted the need to work with and learn from young people as speakers described a traditional top down employee model that was outdated and created tension in a modern market. Learning from younger age groups is part of a new way of thinking. We will reflect on some of the ideas the conference generated.”

The needs and solutions for regional populations is a conversation being replicated across the country. New Zealand’s small population, weight of ‘one man band’ business and geography creates opportunity disadvantage for communities. One Wairarapa company attempting to bring 21st century thinking and opportunity alive is the digital technology hub Masterton Fab Lab. Part of an international move to bring modern means to inventors across the globe, Fab Labs offer high tech training and resource at a community level. Masterton is the only rural NZ enterprise with other labs in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

And on the technology theme, IT security specialist Kendra Ross provided a sobering warning for businesses to better understanding the risks posed to their operations through cyber crime. One the one hand this industry has large growth potential for the region, but on the other hand risks to business continuity if not well managed.

The impact of the recent Rangitane o Wairarapa Treaty Settlement at $32.5 million was a potential game-changer for the region. Mavis Mullins, locally and internationally respected Maori businesswoman was heavily involved in negotiations. Mullins described the Maori economy as a network of small and medium business enterprises finding success locally and globally. Mullins pointed towards regional economic growth as settlement translated into investment in assets and people.

Predictably agricultural was a key topic at the conference. Opportunities for high-tech ag industry development and working smarter, staff development and retention, changing land use and development resulting from irrigation were discussed. Taratahi CEO Arthur Graves reinforced the need for connection between the primary and education sectors to direct future training needs. Forestry consultant Stuart Orme spoke of changing land use models and the opportunities this provides for forestry and honey production as examples.

Dr Linda Sissons focussed her message on education providers need to keep ahead of industry requirements and trends not trailing behind. Citing former employer Weltec, she described their part in the regrowth of declining engineering industry, the Weltec Mechanical Engineering programme, morphing into high end technology training. She advised Taratahi to keep on thinking ‘what’s the future of farming? - not what’s the yesterday or even the today of farming.

“Conference speakers and delegates raised local issues and solutions but it was clear that we need to break new ground, take responsibility locally, invest in people and be creative to developing vibrant, sustainable communities,” said Drew. “Often the best result from such wide ranging discussions is taking ideas that are proven to have need and impact, back to your own locality.