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Address - Regional Development Conference 2003

Hon Jim Anderton
Minister for Industry and Regional Development

Opening Address – Regional Development conference 2003

9.15AM Thursday, 25 September 2003
Community Trust Sports Centre Timaru


I want to start with a true story about a politician who was due to address a regional development conference in Texas (of all places).

They take development seriously in Texas, but they’re not so welcoming of their politicians.

This congressman was about to deliver a keynote address at the conference and he decided to visit what Texan’s call ‘the bathroom.’

He found a sticker had been placed over the ‘on’ button of the hot-air hand-dryers.

It said, “Press here for an update from your congressman.”

It’s time for an update now of our progress – without hot air. We will let the facts get in the way of political spin.

It’s been two years since we went to Rotorua for the first regional development conference in a generation.

At our conference two years ago we heard that regional development directed from the top down won’t work.

We need to work in partnership.

There needs to be buy-in from communities.

The government recognised the existing expertise in economic development and local government agencies.

Many were active long before central government came along.

Central government’s role was to partner with regions.

It was the first time in a generation that central government had been involved in regional development.

‘Regional development’ used to be dirty words in government.

To me it was always obvious.

You could not have a strong national economy when one region after another was weak or in decline.

Our work in the regions is paying dividends.

Every region of New Zealand is in positive growth mode.

In the year to June, every region recorded economic growth of between 2.6 percent and 4.2 percent.

There are, of course, a number of factors behind the increases.
We have had favourable weather.

International trading conditions for our primary products have been generally strong.

We have benefited from excellent growth in the tourism industry, year after year since the late nineties.

But regions have benefited from more than the climate and trading conditions.

It is not just a coincidence that we have achieved and maintained the lowest level of unemployment since 1987.

There have been positive policy choices.

Fiscal management at the national level has been prudent.

There has been significant capital investment in major infrastructural projects.

All these have played a role together.

But there is another factor that has been important.

Regions have been setting their own priorities and displaying confidence in their own future.

When regions sit down and work out where their unique strengths are, it must have an effect.

A business improves its focus and performance by following a business plan.

In the same way, regions have increased their focus and performance by beginning to plan as a region.

When regions publicly express confidence that they have a future, it sends a positive signal to investors.

I can remember when some regions publicly complained they were on their last legs.

Who would invest in a region when even its leaders said it was dying?

There is no region doing that now, even though we can acknowledge where we have to do better.

So confidence is playing a part.

Twenty-three out of 26 regions have managed to develop a detailed economic development strategy in the last two years.

That is 23 more regions with a clear sense of direction.

No region has to start from scratch again.

Strategies will need to be updated, but not begun all over again.

Regional Partnerships were designed to help regions identify barriers to growth and build on their existing advantages.

Advantages include geography, a region’s industry base and the natural talent of the population.


There have been some common issues identified across most regions.

Infrastructure constraints have been one.

New Zealand underinvested in our infrastructure for decades and now we’re getting the bill.

The government has a group of ministers working on this issue.

Skills shortages have been another common issue.

There have been significant new programmes to better align training options with the demand for skills.

Immigration rules have been over-hauled to maximise flows of skilled migrants to regions that need them.

Business development skills are commonly in short supply as well.

New Zealand Trade and Industry has introduced a wide selection of programmes to increase business skills.

Other common issues have included:

Education

Co-ordinating stake-holders

Tourism

Land use.

Nine regions to date have successfully moved on from the strategy stage to Major Regional Initiatives.

Bringing together an MRI takes collaboration and partnership.

The process produces many benefits – let’s have a look.

[VIDEO SUMMARY OF MRIS]

There are more MRIs to be announced, including one in a fortnight.

There were comments at our last conference that the Regional Partnership Programme could be improved.

MED has taken a fresh look at the programme this year.

It is working well in many areas:

There is a more strategic regional focus.

There is an agreed economic development direction in many regions.

Knowledge of a region’s strengths and advantages is better.

Projects are better aligned with those strengths.

Economic development networks are stronger.

Regions are collaborating better.

There is more trust, co-operation and understanding of other stakeholders’ goals and processes.

There is better co-ordination between central and local government.

But if we are frank about the programme, there is more that we can do better, as well.

The involvement of Maori and Pacific people needs to be improved.

Infrastructure issues need to be addressed - including regional transport funding - Auckland is a classic example.

Regional Partnerships need to be integrated into the long-term planning requirements of the new Local Government Act.

Central government needs to step up its work on some issues.

The way the objectives of the RMA are delivered is one example.

Above all we need to see a fresh commitment to lifting regional performance.

I want to throw down a challenge to every corner of New Zealand.

Major Regional Initiatives offer an unrivalled opportunity to supercharge development.

Those regions that have not completed one MRI when others begin their second need to push on harder.

We need to see a series of major strategic projects around our 26 regions – then 52, followed by 78 major strategic projects.

Then New Zealand and its regions will be cooking with gas.

We need to inspire New Zealand with a series of innovative ideas from one end of New Zealand to the other.

There is a perception in some quarters that there is one pot of money for MRIs and once it’s gone, ‘that’s it.’

That perception could not be more wrong.

The programme has been designed to ensure that one initiative comes in on top of another.

Once a region has been to the well, it can come back and drink again.

We need imagination and creativity in developing the second and third generation of regional initiatives.

What are examples of imagination?

Southland came up with a zero tertiary fees initiative.

That idea is taken.

But, it’s not up to me to impose ideas on you.

Ideas need to comply with existing criteria.

Where are the proposals that match Southland’s zero fees innovation?

A region with high numbers on benefits might propose a pilot of halved benefit abatement rates to help beneficiaries back into the workforce.

Many examples could be imagined.

It’s up to regions to spell out a vision for where they are going.
There needs to be strong region-wide debate.

It’s rare to see new ideas for regional initiatives debated on the front pages of regional media.

More debates will lead to better ideas, more buy-in and ultimately more confidence.

Consultants have been useful in many places to help draw up strategies.

But the whole community needs to be encouraged to aim high.

Each region needs to set out its own vision.

Not the phony ‘vision statements’ written in corporate speak to offend no one.

We need inspirational and challenging statements of what can be achieved.

I would like to see the urgency of development lifted.

Just as we encourage innovation in business, we need to encourage innovative thinking at the regional development level.

We have done the spade work in our regional development processes.

The first stage has brought regions together, constructed strategies and in many cases put major regional initiatives on those foundations.

Now we need to push on.

We need the furnishings, the paint and the carpet.

I want to report to you on a series of undertakings I gave at our conference in Rotorua

I said I would try to deliver better co-ordination of government business assistance in the regions.

High growth companies were to be a particular priority.

NZTE now has a Growth Services Range and Fund.

It co-ordinates assistance across government agencies for businesses with high growth potential.

222 projects have been approved under this scheme so far this year.

In Rotorua I said I wanted greater encouragement for business clusters.

A year ago, Industry New Zealand announced the Cluster Development Programme.

It provides clusters with support -- tools, advice, facilitation and funding.

This allows businesses, regions and interest groups to move faster and better.

It helps achieve critical mass.

It can help to resolve issues affecting more than one business – such as training, infrastructure and procurement.

For example, Northland’s Employment Initiative is a cluster aimed at getting the unemployed into permanent jobs.

It is co-ordinated by MED, the Ministry of Social Development, Te Puni Kokiri and the Tertiary Education Commission.

Other important initiatives are delivering real economic benefits to regions.

The 4 cents petrol tax increase created the Regional Transport Fund.
It has enabled the Government to help regions such as Northland, Auckland and Tairawhiti.

In these regions, acute transport problems are holding back development.

The World-Class New Zealander programme connects high-potential businesses with the best talent in the world.

It includes international business exchanges, missions and networks.
It also helps to share more widely the wisdom of world-class experts in New Zealand.

The Polytechnic Regional Development Fund strengthens partnerships between polytechs, industry and the community.

It can help to pay for courses where a region needs particular skills and a polytech is prepared to deliver a required course.

In addition to these programmes, funding has also been found for many others – examples include:

Feasibility studies into harbour development at Opotiki and Kaipara
Pilot projects in Porirua and Waitakere to strengthen the links between training providers, secondary schools and local employers

An employment and recruitment co-ordination pilot on the West Coast

A study into future applications for wireless technologies in New Zealand, and
Tourism infrastructure modelling research.

Local government is a vital player in regional development.

The role of local government has expanded over the last two years.

Today I am releasing the results of a survey by MED, Local Government New Zealand and EDANZ.

It studied what local authorities are doing and spending in economic development.

I am delighted that nearly all of the 86 Councils surveyed expect economic development expenditure to increase or at least stay the same.

We have come a long way since the 2001 regional development conference in Rotorua.

Regional New Zealand is growing and prosperous.

We have a better understanding of where central government can add value.
Partnerships are better.

But we need to do more.

The regional development framework remains fragile.

We must not return to the boom and bust cycles of the past.

This time, the gains of the good years need to be permanently locked in.

I’m reluctant to introduce partisan politics to this.

But it is important to record that the political debate over regional partnerships is not over.

National and Act voted against every single stage of the empowering bills for the establishment of economic industry and regional development initiatives.

They continue to attack many industry and regional; development policies.

No one should be under any illusion that it has been a battle to make these new directions and initiatives work.

If you think it can work better, I welcome your views.

If you think it is achieving something, you need to be advocates for regional partnerships.

It’s not a battle I can fight or win alone.

We need to continue to address barriers to regional investment.

We must realise the unfulfilled economic potential in our regions.

We need to get behind local initiatives and make the most of all our people.

We need to do better at unleashing the potential of Maori and Pacific people.

Our Maori and Pacific populations are part of our competitive advantage.

They are part of what makes us unique;

Maori are nowhere else in the world;

There is nowhere else that can commercialise Pacific creativity in the way we can.

As I told my Progressive party conference last weekend, the debate New Zealand needs to have is not about grievance industries.

It’s about growth industries.

Maori and economic development go together.

We need to look forward and set high targets for achievement.

As leaders of economic development, you are critical in driving forward this agenda.

I am very optimistic about New Zealand.

We live in a moment of immense opportunity.

We can push on to a future where every region of New Zealand is thriving.

We can achieve a vision where every young person has a vibrant future in their own home towns if they choose to.

A vision where every family can enjoy a standard of living and quality of life better than anywhere in the world.

We can achieve a vision where every part of New Zealand is strong, resilient and growing quickly.

This is the vision I have.

It is the vision of New Zealand this conference will help to reach towards.

There will be lessons and examples for us all to learn from.

There will be new successes, and new challenges as well.

We need to think how we will respond to them.

We must respond well.

Each of us is a custodian of the future

We hold the promise of tomorrow in our hands.

It is up to us all to be ambitious for New Zealand.


I know you will be exposed to many ideas and have much to think about over the next two days.

I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.

I look forward to hearing your ideas.

And I look forward to the world-class, vibrant New Zealand we are going forward to create.

ENDS

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