Form­ing re­gional agency takes time and care

The Southland Times - - COMMENT&OPINION - TRACY HICKS

The South­land Times ar­ti­cle ‘‘Agency raises con­cerns’’ (November 13) clearly shows there is a di­ver­sity of views – and pas­sion – on the fu­ture of re­gional de­vel­op­ment in the prov­ince. How­ever, there is one thing we can agree on – South­land re­quires a co-or­di­nated and col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach if we are to at­tract 10,000 peo­ple to live and work in the re­gion.

De­spite strong eco­nomic growth in South­land since 2007, the shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion is the num­ber one con­cern in the re­gion. The static pop­u­la­tion growth, cou­pled with the im­pacts of an age­ing pop­u­la­tion, means that by 2025 the re­gion’s pop­u­la­tion is fore­cast to drop to 1.8 per cent from the cur­rent 2.3 per cent of New Zealand’s pop­u­la­tion. The re­gion needs peo­ple, in­ter­ac­tion and ac­tiv­ity to drive eco­nomic growth so we can sus­tain a high-qual­ity of so­cial and eco­nomic life.

Most of all, we need to work to­gether – in­di­vid­u­als, busi­nesses, large or small, and the com­mu­nity. We also ac­cept that it is go­ing to re­quire more than an aqua­cul­ture project to achieve our goal – there is not a silver bul­let.

Of course, we’re dis­ap­pointed that a fea­si­bil­ity study has shown it’s not eco­nom­i­cally vi­able at this time to de­velop aqua­cul­ture at Port Pe­ga­sus. How­ever, it’s in­cor­rect to im­ply that the study is wasted money. On the con­trary, fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies are tools to pre­vent fu­ture risk and it was SoRDS’ re­spon­si­bil­ity to be rig­or­ous about as­sess­ing that risk.

The project over­all has in­creased our un­der­stand­ing of po­ten­tial aqua­cul­ture de­vel­op­ment in South­land and of what’s in­volved in large-scale in­no­va­tion – con­certed ef­fort and sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment. But aqua­cul­ture is just one part of the SoRDS blueprint. The big fo­cus of SoRDS is di­ver­si­fy­ing the econ­omy, build­ing a rich ma­trix of small and large en­ter­prises and ini­tia­tives across tourism, in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion, pri­mary sec­tor ex­ten­sion, in­no­va­tion and In­ver­cargill re­ju­ve­na­tion. And cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where it’s easy to do busi­ness.

So, it’s dis­ap­point­ing to hear sug­ges­tions that the strat­egy does not rep­re­sent small and medium sized en­ter­prises or fac­tor in the chal­lenges of a rapidly chang­ing world. In fact, small and medium busi­nesses are the en­gine room of our re­gional econ­omy and the key to in­no­va­tion in the face of change. SoRDS’ pro­posed In­no­va­tion South ini­tia­tive is de­voted to fu­elling this through en­abling en­trepreneurs and in­no­va­tors to ac­cess cap­i­tal and skills to drive in­no­va­tion projects.

Let’s not for­get the progress with im­ple­ment­ing the strat­egy. Three ma­jor projects to re­ju­ve­nate the in­ner city are un­der way with the In­ver­cargill Li­cens­ing Trust’s new ho­tel, In­ver­cargill City Coun­cil’s arts precinct project and the joint ven­ture be­tween In­ver­cargill City Prop­erty Group and HW Richard­son Group to de­velop an in­ner-city precinct cre­at­ing an arts, cul­ture and re­tail heart for the city.

In­ter­na­tional stu­dents grad­u­at­ing from the South­land In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy are choos­ing to stay in South­land. SIT is work­ing hard with in­dus­try and busi­ness to en­sure these stu­dents can ac­cess em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. South­land has also been se­lected by the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment as one of five re­gions to pi­lot the new Wel­com­ing Com­mu­ni­ties pro­gramme.

The pi­lot is be­ing de­liv­ered through Ven­ture South­land and is in­volv­ing the coun­cil and com­mu­nity work­ing to­gether to help new­com­ers feel at home. The South­ern Ed­u­ca­tion Al­liance, funded by Ed­u­ca­tion New Zealand, is also ex­plor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in schools par­tic­u­larly in smaller ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. In­ver­cargill’s leisure mar­ket is al­ready see­ing gains from the mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing be­tween Air New Zealand and South­land stake­hold­ers to boost de­mand for flights to In­ver­cargill Air­port – specif­i­cally at­tract­ing ad­di­tional do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors to South­land.

There is in­vest­ment in our en­vi­ron­ment, fund­ing En­vi­ron­ment South­land’s pro­gramme to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity through help­ing ru­ral and ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties and catch­ment groups make changes to re­duce their im­pact on wa­ter.

Iwi are an im­por­tant part­ner in de­liv­er­ing many of these re­gional de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives. Af­ter all, iwi are fo­cused on achiev­ing in­ter­gen­er­a­tional out­comes, which is a key part of the SoRDS strat­egy.

We also need to be very clear that we’ve set our­selves mas­sive task with our re­gional de­vel­op­ment and pop­u­la­tion growth goals. It’s a task that re­quires a co-or­di­nated, whole-ofre­gion ef­fort, which the pro­posed South­land Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Agency would have heft to de­liver. It’s im­por­tant to note that SoRDS and SRDA are two dif­fer­ent things. SRDA is a pro­posal led by the four coun­cils to lead de­liv­ery of re­gional de­vel­op­ment. It’s now go­ing through a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion process, led and funded by the coun­cils, the out­come of which will not be known for a few weeks.

If it is de­cided that the SRDA should pro­ceed, time and care will be taken to en­sure that it is cor­rectly struc­tured and funded, to do the job of ac­cel­er­at­ing growth of ex­ist­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and in­no­va­tion of new ones. South­land is at its best when we act col­lec­tively to achieve a com­mon goal. Pub­lic scru­tiny of any re­gional de­vel­op­ment pro­posal is vi­tal, but we also need to be ob­jec­tive, fact-based and con­struc­tive in our col­lec­tive dis­cus­sion be­cause this is our fu­ture we’re talk­ing about. Tracy Hicks is Gore District mayor

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