A cohesive front for cross-sector business interests should facilitate growth in Northland's economic performance, Northland MP Mike Sabin says.
Two economic summits were held during June and July that saw more than 200 business representatives establish a broad set of actions and created a 14-member group to work with Destination Northland and local government on reinvigorating business in the north.
“A lot of the challenges that we've had with economic development in Northland has not been the lack of opportunities, lack of potential, it's been the lack of cohesion and the lack of a delivery mechanism,” Mr Sabin says.
The initiatives that are brought forward by the Northland Economic Action Group will be a result of a broad-based, inclusive process, Mr Sabin says.
The process by which the group was created and how the “core” issues that they will deal with have been determined shows that the group has a mandate, he says.
There were nine core themes to come out of the Waitangi session in June. The participants at the summit were asked to identify their priorities and 89 per cent of respondents identified those nine issues that were brought forward to Whangarei.
In Whangarei the 14 sectors represented worked as a group to identify solutions to those issues raised in Waitangi. During that process, each sector nominated a representative for the newly formed action group.
“One of their first tasks is to make sense of what is do-able now, what are the priorities and essentially thrashing out a more detailed action plan,” he says.
“The point of the process is getting it sharper and sharper to the point where you've got a clear set of actions that are mutually beneficial across the broad section of sectors.”
Initially, there was talk about each sector's visions for their sector over the next five to 10 years.
“Now, what I wanted to see was what could be done, particularly around the intangibles, particularly around how people perceive Northland,” Mr Sabin says.
“We need to project to New Zealand and to the world that Northland is a business-friendly opportunity for investment with lots of growth potential. We've got to compete for business interests with every other region and every other country in the world essentially. Those are the kinds of things that can be worked on straight away.”
He says infrastructure, such as the Puhoi extension of the motorway north, must remain a priority for government because it will provide benefit for every sector in the region.
He says the promotion of Northland as a good investment has until now taken a “piecemeal” approach.
“It would be nice to think that if there are opportunities that we want to attract that we can either lead that conversation by holding a sector forum on forestry opportunities, invite local and international players and say: ‘This is what we're doing over the next five to 10 years, these are the opportunities that exist - this is the advisory group and the economic agency that will co-ordinate this with you. You tell us what your needs are and we will tell you if we can meet them.'
“We need to be able to articulate very clearly the opportunities here for people who want to invest,” he says.
The core themes established that challenge businesses in Northland were identified as: Local government, infrastructure, labour skills, energy, minerals, hi-tech development, the Maori economy, environment and intangibles such as the perception of Northland and the need for leadership.
The advisory group will meet in August to establish what Mr Sabin calls “an operating platform” - a terms of reference, a chairperson, a strategy for how the group operates and to begin to foster a relationship with Destination Northland and its newly appointed chairman Colin Mitten.
The message as Mr Sabin sees it is: “We're not waiting for the wave, we're starting to paddle ourselves.”
- Bay Chronicle