Manufacturing too valuable to give up on

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 15:52 11/02/2013

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An indifference to manufacturing needs to be checked, because there’s only so many lawyers and accountants a country can produce, a Christchurch manufacturer says.

At the Parliamentary Inquiry into Manufacturing in Christchurch today, Talbot Technologies director Steve Wilson said the country - and the Government - had stopped thinking manufacturing was an asset to the nation.

"Now, you find teachers warning students that if you don’t perform they will end up in manufacturing."

Germany was the largest exporter of manufactured goods until 18 months ago, and it had a completely different attitude to its engineers and manufacturing sector, he said.

"Their engineers have a title that is more revered than a doctor."

When the late Angus Tait, founder of Christchurch firm Tait Communications, was at cocktail parties he would be ignored in the corner while people thronged around the managing partners of large accounting firms, he said.

"That’s what’s wrong with the culture, I believe," Wilson said.

When Kiwi whiteware icon Fisher & Paykel Appliances moved most of its production offshore in 2008, Talbot, which was its second-largest manufacturer, lost quite a lot of business.

Wilson believed Fisher & Paykel would not have gone overseas if it felt more welcome at home.

"I personally don’t think Fisher & Paykel would have gone overseas if they felt the Government had an empathetic connection... It’s really about attitude, they felt they weren’t supported in New Zealand."

People who thought manufacturers moving offshore was good because it would mean cheaper prices were missing the importance of that business for the training and livelihoods of those thousands "along the chain", he said.

It was not just the company’s employees who were affected, but those employed by smaller associated businesses, like Talbot, he said.

Wilson believed a 40 per cent depreciation allowance for plastics manufacturers in the wake of the 1980s economic reforms to save the industry and a similar measure could help boost the wider manufacturing sector, he said.

The Parliamentary Inquiry was held by opposition parties to address the issues facing the manufacturing sector and chaired by New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association executive member Cameron Moore.

Moore is also a past president of the New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association

The Christchurch inquiry hearing finishes today, with an Auckland hearing due next week.

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