John Milford: Business keeps the wheels turning
OPINION: The past three weeks have been a strange sort of limbo for many.
After what was a frenetic election campaign, we voted. Then we waited. Then we watched. And now we're waiting again for decisions that apparently have been made, and while "other arrangements" are put in place.
But while the politicians have been consumed with the to-ing and fro-ing, the secret talks and the secret handshakes, and while many of the public have been galvanised by the process and the intrigue surrounding it all, business has been doing what it does best – getting on with business.
They couldn't afford to sit back and let themselves get distracted by what's going on around Parliament, and they haven't.
I saw this first-hand as I spent the weeks since the election visiting businesses and organisations in the provinces, talking about where they're at, the current business climate, and their aspirations and where they want to be headed.
In Gisborne, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North, Whanganui, New Plymouth, and Nelson – and even small stops in between – I visited more than 50 businesses covering a wide variety of sectors, and ranging in size from 20 employees to 250.
I also talked to councils, polytechnics, and district health boards.
While they were all getting on with business as usual, without exception they told me the same thing – whatever the shape of the government announced this Friday, (or Saturday, or Sunday) it was essential there was an environment that enabled business to work at top efficiency and with as few impediments as possible.
They said the economy depended on this to ensure business could continue to deliver jobs and the better prosperity for everyone that comes with those jobs.
The issues the they talked about were the familiar ones talked about during the election campaign: access to more people with the right skills and experience, be it via our education system by giving young people the right skills, or via targeted immigration; a continued emphasis on building more infrastructure to ensure resilience and growth in the regions; less red-tape handbrakes on business growth; a relentless attitude to chasing trade deals.
Another message to me was loud and clear: exports are going well but business needs an environment that continues to encourage them.
These businesspeople talked also about the potential impact of anything that could tip the balance in their cost structure, such as changes in infrastructure costs, taxes on water, increases in power prices, or increases in labour costs and disruptions.
On the matter of labour, some talked about the changing dynamic of robotics and automation that are increasingly coming into play in many industries.
One company, which employs a lot of unskilled people, said any significant increase in the cost of labour would likely accelerate their move towards introducing robots into its processing plant.
It wouldn't be what they wanted to do, but they might have no option if they were to remain viable.
That's another reason for the incoming government to ensure it continues policies that are conducive to good business and exports.
Businesses trust the government of the day to make policies that don't stop them from doing what they need to do and allow them to thrive and grow, which leads to more jobs and more wealth.
When business is going well, we all go well. The inverse also applies.
For the country to move forward, it's essential we don't have policies that put the handbrakes on, rather those that lubricate businesses' wheels.
John Milford is the chief executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.