OPINION: Last September Wellington City Council organised 70 hi-tech, smart businesses and organisations to set up displays at the BIG (Business, Innovation and Growth) Expo at Parliament to demonstrate to Parliamentarians what makes Wellington buzz.
The ministers, like many people I suspect, were surprised - and delighted - because while Wellington is home to a world-class public sector, they discovered it's also a hotbed of innovative, exciting global businesses with huge aspiration. They were left in no doubt that Wellington will play a key role in growing NZ Inc.
Now we are taking our Wellington story to the world with a very clear goal to attract talent, business and investment to the capital. We are making changes. Destination Wellington will promote Wellington as a great place to do business and has a very clear mandate to help meet our target to grow 10,000 jobs in Wellington by 2015. Yes, tourism still forms a critical part of Wellington's economic strategy, but we want people to know that 'Wellington is open for business' as well.
Some say we are dwarfed by the new Auckland super-city, and competing for resources with the rebuild of Christchurch.
As the city council's economic portfolio leader I understand it is critical to take action now so we can grow into a truly internationally competitive city offering enough jobs and a lifestyle to keep our young and talented people here.
The city's new economic development strategy is, at a glance, pretty simple.
1. Attract long-haul flights to Wellington.
2. Retain, attract and grow talent and investment in Wellington.
3. Identify what infrastructure will give us the biggest bang for buck in terms of bringing business visitors and tourists to the city and build it.
4. Grow the number of smart, innovative jobs in Wellington.
5. Ensure Wellington is the best place in New Zealand to do business.
The key message here is - we do have a plan and we intend to execute it.
We have some clear aspirational targets for business growth:
10,000 new jobs by 2015.
Achieve a 50 per cent increase in smart, knowledge intensive businesses by 2021.
Double the number of direct foreign investment projects from the current 25 to 50 by 2021.
Increase exports by 0.5 billion by 2021 by averaging growth of 3.25 per cent a year.
Wellington has so many natural advantages: five tertiary institutions, public and private research institutes; unique capital city status with access to an engaged diplomatic corps; government agencies; and Parliament.
Wellington's CBD has great access to broadband. We are New Zealand's most central city and the exploration centre of New Zealand. We are close to nature and a safe city. We have a beautiful harbour and are surrounded by bush. We are the world's coolest little capital.
If we are to create 10,000 jobs in Wellington by 2015, we need to understand what is here, and what works and why. We then need to actively tell our story and market Wellington as a great place to operate from.
Pulling together the BIG Expo last year was a big success on several levels. Interestingly, many in the room didn't know about each other's businesses, or simply assumed they were from Auckland. They were wrong - but perception is reality. This is a myth we need to bust.
Our world-class public sector has been the backbone our economy. However, over the past 15 years the Wellington economy has changed - many of the top 200 companies have drifted north and government has undergone many reforms. With change comes opportunity and a constant stream of new and exciting businesses continue to emerge.
Organisations at BIG represented many sectors including engineering; creative screen and digital, design, science and research; clean technology; IT and telecommunications; hi-tech manufacturing and professional services.
Wellington companies like Park Road Post, Opencloud, Weta Digital, Fronde, Sidhe, Xero, 4RF, Core Technology ltd, I-lign Software, Yonix sit along IBM, Fujitsu, and Datacom and are taking it to the world. There is just so much exciting stuff going on.
These types of industries contribute to nearly 80 per cent of Wellington's GDP and reflect the dynamic and innovative successes for which New Zealand is known around the world.
When you talk to businesses about what is holding them back most are quick to tell you the biggest barrier is talent. Many are hiring and have considerable numbers of vacancies to fill. Our stats back that up - across the region employment fell by just 0.6 per cent (1.9 per cent nationally).
And it's not just about having a plan. Execution is critical. We are getting some runs on the board.
For example, the Government's $1.25b investment in Wellington's transport network including almost $350 million for buses and trains will transform our city's infrastructure and is critical to the success of the port and the airport; the council's $48m ASB sports centre is keeping our talent fit.
And $65m is being invested by Wellington Airport over the next five years to maintain and enhance aeronautical assets to cater for growth as passenger numbers double to 10 million by 2030.
After some lobbying, the new CRI, the Advanced Technology Institute, will keep its Wellington campus - which is fitting given the ATI will be named after the eminent scientist and famous Wellingtonian, Sir Paul Callaghan.
This week, following our mayoral delegation to China in May, we have the biggest Chinese business delegation ever to visit Wellington. After an invitation to the provincial governor, he has sent a television camera crew to film a 10-minute documentary featuring Wellington which will be shown to an audience of over 100 million and in 56 countries.
The council's economic development strategy is a start. Together with the private sector we can make a difference. Wellington has undergone a BIG transformation - now it's time to tell the world we are open for business.
Jo Coughlan is a Wellington City councillor and is the council's economic portfolio leader.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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