Working together to accelerate regional growth

Growing the number of international students studying in the Wellington region is an area of potential growth, writes ...

Growing the number of international students studying in the Wellington region is an area of potential growth, writes Chris Whelan.

The operating reality of Wellington's economy is regional, writes Chris Whelan.

OPINION: This morning tens of thousands of Wellingtonians travelled across the region, from a home in one municipal zone, to a job in another. On the weekend they'll head to a third municipality to eat, shop and have fun. This is our 'economic ecosystem'.

Growing this symbiotic economy requires both an internal and external vision. Firstly, we recognise that Wellington City, Porirua, Kapiti, and Hutt Valley and Wairarapa are interdependent, and what affects one, affects all. Equally, the fuel for regional growth lies "beyond our borders", where a united approach is key to making an impact, nationally, in Asia-Pacific, and beyond.

Wellington is New Zealand's second largest city-region and business centre, with the country's most educated and highest-earning workforce. With a central urban area of 398,300 people and almost half a million in the region, the success of Wellington's economy is important to the prosperity of New Zealand as a whole – and vice versa.

Fundamental to Wellington's proposition as a place to live, learn, work and succeed is our ability to do smart business in a global marketplace, while enjoying the enviable lifestyle benefits accessible from Masterton to Kapiti, and everywhere in between.

A regional economic approach also highlights our valuable diversity. From the vineyards, farms and forests of the Wairarapa and Kapiti, and the high-tech manufacturing and science operations of the Hutt Valley and Porirua, to the professional services, creative industries, technology and government sectors of Wellington City, working regionally enables us to build on complementary strengths.

The Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA) was conceived in recognition of this regional reality. Just as commerce operates across municipal boundaries, so too does WREDA.  By uniting agencies with responsibilities for business growth and innovation, major events, venue operations, as well as visitor economy and marketing, the region's leaders have enabled a united, rather than a silo-based approach to economic development.

WREDA takes a systemic, holistic view of Wellington's economy. Focusing on the fundamentals: talent attraction, retention and growth; connectedness (local and global); innovation; and distinctiveness – is the foundation of long-term success. Similarly, with businesses at the core of growth, building strategic partnerships with business leadership across the region is an ongoing focus. Accelerating growth requires all of us – business, government and civil society – to actively collaborate over the long-term.

A clear example is presented by international education. Currently, Wellington has around 6000 international fee-paying students, collectively worth $190 million to the economy (alongside the value they bring to our community in terms of diverse global perspectives and thinking).

The opportunities for growth in this sector are right across Wellington. In Masterton, council CEO Pim Borren is confident local schools can absorb significantly more secondary students, while in Wellington City, Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford is looking to rapidly expand the suite of products the university offers to grow tertiary student numbers. Similar situations exist in Hutt Valley, Porirua and Kapiti, with Massey University, Weltec, Whitireia and several secondary schools actively engaged in growing student numbers.

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The region has a compelling education value proposition – high-quality products, lifestyle and environmental benefits, plus easy access to Australasia, Singapore and beyond. To fully realise the potential of this sector, all regional role-players – WREDA included - must work together.

In this, as in other areas, the power of co-operation will enable us to achieve things that would be near-impossible individually.

Taking a regional view of Wellington's economic landscape is tremendously encouraging. We have all the ingredients in place to grow robustly; talented people, increasing global connectedness, a highly innovative, entrepreneurial mindset, and clear distinctiveness in terms of knowledge-dense business and world-class quality of life. The challenge now is to grasp the opportunities this presents.

I'm reminded of a piece of wisdom I was taught soon after arriving in New Zealand: He waka eke noa - we're all in this vessel together, with no exceptions. It chimes nicely with a proverb I brought with me from South Africa – If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. By working together our region will be able to realise its full potential, and build a globally-competitive mix of prosperity, vibrancy and liveability.

Chris Whelan is chief executive of the Wellington Regional Development Agency (WREDA).

Fact file

The Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA) combines the economic development activities of Wellington City Council (WCC) and Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) to advance the prosperity and liveability of the Wellington region. It brings together the functions and activities of: Grow Wellington, Positively Wellington Tourism, Destination Wellington, Positively Wellington Venues, Major Events. It has an independent board of directors and reports to its council shareholders via the Wellington Regional Strategy Committee.

Next week: Water works – Wellington Water is an example of council forming a shared-service enterprise.

 - The Dominion Post


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