OPINION: I'm writing this column shortly after giving a presentation at a Kea-organised function on the short-term prospects for New Zealand's economy to a group of almost 50 Kiwis and other interested people in the ambassador's residence at the New Zealand embassy in Paris, writes Tony Alexander.
Questions from the audience showed strong interest in the issue of whether New Zealand is doing enough to attract skilled migrants from the rest of the world, and progress in taking the many great Kiwi inventions and turning them into profitable business ventures.
On the first issue my response was along the lines of New Zealand not being at the top of the list for many skilled people out there and government policy only being able to influence about 25 per cent of the gross flows into and out of New Zealand.
Plus, there is resistance within New Zealand to any sort of incentives being offered to foreigners to come into New Zealand with a popular view that apart from rebuilding Christchurch they might take jobs away from existing Kiwis.
This reveals the way in which many people fail to understand the qualifications and skills needed to do jobs beyond labouring but is a fact governments have to live with when they set immigration policy.
On the innovation issue, this is a big problem for New Zealand. Culturally we love inventing and making things, but only a few special people have the determination to take what they have to the world stage then retain as much of its production in New Zealand as long as they can. To do that, the inventor needs to learn a lot about management and international markets - and that is where returning Kiwis are a resource we severely underutilise.
These people, who have spent years overseas, have fantastic networks into large foreign companies and skills which appear to be lacking in New Zealand's management class.
However, these returnees also show a tendency to not want to spend a lot of time back overseas again. They come back to New Zealand generally to settle down and not to use New Zealand as a base for an international expansion.
Still, in my opinion, if we could vastly improve the linkages between these people and the inventors and low level entrepreneurs in New Zealand, we could go a long way toward improving New Zealand's economic performance.
In that regard, we could also make a lot better use of the many Kiwis living and working overseas who have strong goodwill toward New Zealand and would like to help in some way. These people, some of whom are very successful, generally fly under the radar in New Zealand with media preferring to focus on domestic social issues rather than the messy business of liaison with people overseas who have quit our shores.
Earlier in the week I made a quick trip from London to Dublin to speak at a Kea function there and the questions were of an interestingly different nature to those in Paris. In Dublin the attending Kiwis were strongly interested in China. They wanted to know about China's short and long-term growth prospects and New Zealand's relationship with China. Perhaps these people living in a smaller country closer to the land than those in Paris think more in terms of the primary sector. Interesting.
» Tony Alexander is the chief economist for the Bank of New Zealand.
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