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Howard's End: Creating Local Economic Growth

More than one hundred mayors, councillors, central government officials and economic development and tourism professionals, will attend a two-day forum starting in Wellington tomorrow entitled, "Unleashing the Economic Development Potential of our Communities." John Howard writes.

Staged jointly by the Economic Development Association of NZ and Local Government New Zealand, (LGNZ) who represents more than 80 local councils across the country, the economic forum will be opened by Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton.

The organisers plan to showcase examples of successful initiatives already in place across New Zealand and inspire local councils to invest more in economic development.

In announcing the forum in February LGNZ President, Basil Morrison said, " Anyone with an interest in economic development and the future prosperity and well-being of our communities was welcome to attend."

As part of the forum, three seminars dealing with funding/partnership issues, developing clusters of industries, and measuring the success of economic development initiatives, will be held.

Yesterday, David Barnes from LGNZ was excited and said, " We have a really wide variety of people attending from all parts of the country with 75 people signed up just for the seminar on funding and partnerships."

"I guess this reflects the importance of funding to successful economic development," he said.

Of course, overall economic development must always be considered in terms what I call the SEE principle. Social (cohesive, coordinated, inclusive, quality, balance and community buy-in) - Environment (sustainable, least impact and responsible) - Economic (growth, accountable and performance.)

With such a high calibre of participants attending from across the country, the public will undoubtedly have high expectations about exactly what will be achieved - a talkfest, or a forum action plan with clear resolutions for central government.

LGNZ plans to use the forum to launch its new guidebook to economic development which sets out a process councils can use to develop the right initiatives for their areas.

It's a start, but economic development is more than just a book of words. That is process oriented and the public will expect the forum to be results oriented.

There have been too many forums in the past where the books and reports from them, despite good intentions, lay gathering dust in archives and bookshelves. And sometimes, there are simply too many people in the regions who are quite happy to remain in their comfort zones.

There will be some at the forum tomorrow who will not be subsidised by government, council, a business organisation or a tax write-off. They will have paid their own money, up to $1,000 in airfares, accomodation etc., so their expectations for the forum will also be high.

In unleashing any economic development potential in small-town New Zealand central government must, of necessity, play a much bigger part.

So when will government introduce special economic zones in New Zealand like they have in the U.S., China, Singapore, Poland, Ireland, the U.K and, most recently, in parts of the Australian State of Queensland.

The international record shows that that type of programme will drive sustainable economic development forward in New Zealand faster than anything we're doing at the moment.

Establishing special economic zones in New Zealand is the type of resolution to central government that I will be expecting to come from the participants of this forum tomorrow.


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