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GROWOtago - springboard for regional development

Hon Jim Anderton
Minister of Economic Development

GROWOtago - The Otago Regional Council’s springboard for regional development

Carrick Winery, Cairnmuir Road, Bannockburn, Cromwell.
Thursday 26 August 2004



Chair of the Otago Regional Council, Duncan Butcher; Chief Executive Otago Regional Council Graeme Martin; Chief Executive NIWA, Dr Rick Pridmore; Jeff Moreton from AgResearch; Central Otago District Mayor, Malcolm MacPherson…

This is a good time to be a New Zealander.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a group of senior business leaders from around the Asia Pacific region.

These were people who know what is going on everywhere in the APEC region.

My job was to convince them to take a close look at working with New Zealand businesses.

As out companies look to grow, they have to look at partners around the world.

Our global connections are vitally important to developing markets for our exports.

We have to have compelling reasons why global partners should look at us.

I was able to tell them they should look at New Zealand because of our economy is performing so well.

Unemployment is lower than it’s been in seventeen years.

Our economy is consistently growing faster than the OECD average and we are on track to return to the top-half of the OECD.

I could tell them we offer a competitive cost-structure, skilled workers, a stable government and a great lifestyle.

I’m sure all of these were important to that leading business audience.

But I also told them there was an even more important advantage New Zealand businesses offer.

That is the innovation and creativity of New Zealanders.

I pointed out to our international audience we have developed cultural advantages because of our small size and our isolation.

We are used to solving problems on our own.

We are used to the having the freedom to try things out.

These qualities have made New Zealand an incredibly talented, innovative and creative country.

Our businesses are harnessing that creativity.

They are increasingly preparing to take it out to the world.

If we can combine our ideas with the best the world has to offer, we can increase the value of our production, and the incomes of New Zealanders.

We are building on our existing strengths and advantages and we are beginning to see the results.

Every region of New Zealand is in positive growth mode.

Otago is experiencing a period of sustained economic growth.

In parts of the region, the issue is not so much how to stimulate economic growth, but how to manage the growth that is already happening.

In March this year there were 55 registered job seekers in the Central Otago District, and another 21 in the Queenstown Lakes District.

This is less than two bus-loads of people.

There was an eight per cent increase in the number of people in jobs last year.

The commercial sector is booming.

Non-residential building consents for Otago increased last year by 71 per cent.

This compares to a 12 per cent rise for New Zealand over the same period.

Port Otago handled twelve percent more cargo last year -- 1.4 million tonnes.

Car registrations in Otago rose 22 per cent last year.

Nearly every economic trend in the region has been out-stripping the national economy – which has been unusually strong as well.

Strong regional economies mean a strong national economy.

We have to continue develop strategies for long-term growth if we want to enjoy the living standards we aspire to.

We need to build on our strengths.

The diversity of Otago’s climate is one strength for this region.

Traditionally Otago’s primary land uses were sheep and summer fruit.

But land use has diversified recently.

Today new applications include dairying, deer farming and ostriches.

There are new crops such as grapes, olives, chestnuts and flowers.

The challenge is to make informed decisions about the best use for land.

To do that, farmers need quality information about the climate and land.

They need to plan for drought and frost.

They need to know the length of the growing season and the range of plants best suited to each location.

A good example of relatively recent land use change on a significant scale is the viticulture industry in Central Otago.

Despite the relatively recent evolution of the industry, several Otago wines are already winning international recognition.

The wealth and profile generated by the rise of the viticulture industry is exciting.

But it represents a very small part of the land area of Otago.

This begs the question, what other untapped potential does this region have to offer?

The Otago Regional Council has taken up this challenge.

It has recognised the opportunity to develop the region’s unique environment.

The Regional Council has committed $700,000 over three years to the project.

Scientists have been contracted from NIWA, AgResearch, Landcare, the University of Auckland and University of Otago.

They’re using satellite data and advanced computer modelling to produce a series of maps.

They show the averages, ranges, and extremes of climate in the region.

This will assist in identifying new options for agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, aquaculture, tourism, and forestry.

In addition to the maps, the Otago Polytechnic has been contracted to do crop trials.

That makes three CRI’s, two universities and a polytechnic.

All involved with local government in partnership for the benefit of the region’s economy.

GROWOtago uses information already available, but often not easily accessed.

The project involves the placement of about 12 temporary climate stations in each part of Otago for a year.

They are coupled with existing permanent stations and historic records to produce maps.

Some farmers have bought their own climate stations or allowed them to be sited on their land.

The maps give an overview of how conditions vary, such as the lowest total rainfall in one summer out of every five.

This will assist everyone in climate sensitive activities in Otago:

Farmers considering alternative land uses including crops and forests;

Assessment of irrigation potential;

Flood risk;

Consideration of ski-field potential, and

Investigating wind-power.

One of the most exciting initiatives include the development of Otago Polytechnics new Crop Centre.

The Centre will focus on crops suitable for Central Otago and southern New Zealand.

Otago’s future depends on broad understanding of the climate and environment.

We need to use this this to make more informed investment and land use decisions – grow more of the best and protect against the worst.

This project overall is an excellent example of adding knowledge to our economy – through science and creativity.

There are some who suppose there is a clash between high value knowledge-based exports, and the success of our primary sector.

But there is no clash.

Science – and the creative use of knowledge and ideas – has always been our edge in our agricultural, horticultural and other primary industries.

It goes right back to a pioneering New Zealander called William Saltau Davidson.

He first figured that you could ship New Zealand meat and dairy to the UK in refrigerated boats – beginning with a ship called the Dunedin.

His vision was scorned by property speculators who believed New Zealand farm land would only ever produce wool.

But his vision transformed the New Zealand economy.

It made us a rich nation for decades.

It was an early example of applying science and ideas to our primary sector.

The use of information gained through GROWOtago is another example.

There are others going on.

Recently Nikken Seil, a Japanese food processing business purchased 19 hectares in Oamaru.

They are looking to establish a health and ecology park.

This decision resulted from a very astute observation by Dr Ochi of Nikken.

He noticed we have something very special to offer in terms of the production of quality, healthy food.

The initiative is very complementary with GROWOtago.

Nikken Seils strong connections into Asia offer the opportunity of access to quality, timely information about what is being sought, and at what price.

We have the prospect of GROWOtago becoming an integral part of Otago’s major regional initiative - a Bioresources centre for the region.

GROWOtago will inform landowners about what can be grown.

And Nikken Seil will provide signals about what can be sold.

This is a brilliant example of regional strengths being connected to international opportunities.

It’s an example for other regions around New Zealand to emulate.

Congratulations to the councils, economic development agencies, businesses and scientists that have made this possible.

I started out by saying this is a great time to be a New Zealander.

It is a great time for Otago.

As I review initiatives like this one – and as I see the many creative projects underway around New Zealand, I am very confident.

The future is very positive.

There are fantastically talented people working in creative businesses and the best economic conditions we have enjoyed in two generations.

We must not take the risk of going back to the failures of the last century.

It’s not that long ago when the regions of New Zealand were languishing.

When unemployment was stubbornly high, and businesses were struggling.

We can’t go back to that.

We should be positive about New Zealand and positive about the opportunities we have available.

We need to continue to build on our creativity and build on our strengths.

We need to offer every young person growing up in New Zealand – and in Otago – a positive future, of hope and opportunity in the community they grow up in.

It’s too easy to tell people that it can’t happen any other way.

That’s what doubters used to say to William Saltau Davidson.

But with a confident vision, we can achieve as much as we want to achieve.

I wish you all the best with GROWOtago.

I know it will make a significant difference to the success of this region.

It will help to lock in substantial economic gains, and that will produce higher incomes and more jobs.

It will help to secure the future of this region.

And it will provide on-going benefits for many year.

Congratulations on the partnerships that have made it possible, and good luck for the future.


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