Innovation flexes its mussels

Last updated 13:00 19/11/2012

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John Key doesn't get down to Nelson that often, particularly in a non-election year, despite it being a short hop from the corridors of power.

But he can't have helped being impressed on his whistle-stop visit last week at the diverse range of science, business and health initiatives under way in the region.

In a few hours the prime minister witnessed ground-breaking research at the Cawthron Institute, the launch of an advanced helicopter pilot training school and the opening of a new medical centre at Nelson Hospital.

All promise major benefits for the region.

Cawthron, in particular, is flexing its research muscles, or should that be mussels, with a $26 million deal to selectively breed the shellfish.

The funding is split between the Primary Industries Ministry and Spatnz, a collaboration between Sanford, Sealord Group and Wakatu Incorporation.

It's being touted as the most significant investment in the industry's development since the first marine farms were established in the 1970s, and promises the same benefits that other primary industries have gained from selective breeding.

At its core is the Cawthron research that will allow mussels to be grown from hatchery spat, rather than rely on the inconsistent supply and quality of wild spat.

Selective breeding is designed to meet export quality demands for larger, uniform-sized shellfish and other characteristics such as health-promoting benefits. It will free up mussel lines used to grow spat in the wild, creating more jobs there. A new hatchery complex to be built at Cawthron's Glenhaven site will also create 15 new positions.

High-quality food production remains one of New Zealand's key industries, and the combination of science and commerce, private and public funding, in the mussel project seems a winning formula.

The helicopter school is a totally different kettle of fish, but shares the same innovative approach and international dimension.

Canadian owned, Nelson-based helicopter firm HNZ is setting up an advanced pilot training school in the city.

It's expecting to run 10 three-week courses a year drawing pilots from the Asia-Pacific region.

The school builds on the region's already strong aviation base, with regional airline leader Air Nelson, aircraft maintenance facilities and existing public and private aviation training providers.

The new medical centre at Nelson Hospital is just as welcome, for different reasons.

It will become the after-hours base, replacing the current facility in an old house in Waimea Rd.

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It will also house part of the hospital's orthopaedic team and will eventually accommodate all orthopaedics once after-hours shifts to another new building being built for medical and nursing education.

With unemployment still on the rise and the economy limping along, these smart, local initiatives offer job prospects and a reassuring confidence in the region's future.

- The Nelson Mail

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