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Economic summit challenges Motueka businesses

August 28th, 2014
[Report by David Armstrong, photos courtesy of Alastair Paulin, Nelson Mail]

The Motueka Economic Summit held on Wednesday featured speakers from a range of local industries who challenged the 120 people present to plan for the future of the local economy.

The four-hour summit, titled "Toward 2030: A better future for Motueka", was organised by David Armstrong and David Ogilvie with the support of Vision Motueka and Our Town Motueka and held at the Masonic Centre, an excellent venue for a gathering of this size.

The speakers talked of the broad economic situation and challenges in the Tasman and Motueka area, with those from various industries including horticulture, tourism and seafood also outlining how their businesses were addressing their issues.

Feedback after the summit indicated strong support for the initiative and a desire to carry the ideas forward through some form of task force. About 40 of the audience have put their hands up to be part of future planning and projects.

Future developments will likely be undertaken through some kind of collaboration between Vision Motueka and Our Town Motueka, and meetings are already being plan "what next".

One consistent message came out of several of the presentations - the need for and value of collaboration, in which complementary industries and businesses could work together on new initiatives (such as tourism and horticulture, or education and training institutions).

Following is a summary of some of the main points made by speakers, along with their speech notes where available.

Bill Findlater, Nelson Economic Development Agency    (Download his speech notes here)

Nelson EDA have just released their regional strategy for Nelson, with aims and targets out to 2020. Featured among the targets are goals to be above national averages in a range of key measurements such as regional GDP.

Bill said local economic development should not be about trying to relocate other businesses into our region, but about identifying and building on the strengths we already have.

He pointed out that the Nelson/Tasman region is the highest employer of research adn development staff per capita in New Zealand. But he said we should not try to be the next Silicon Valley; rather we must get better at using ICT to benefit our existing businesses.

Damien O'Connor, MP for West Coast - Tasman

Damien reminded us of our natural assets, pointing out that we haven't yet learned how to market them as well as we could.

He said the local industries, especially horticulture and seafood, have a solid history in research and development, and we need to build on it in areas such as automated forest logging equipment, health products and services (especially for ageing populations), and technology.

"Lots of tech-savvy people choose to come here to live because of our natural environment, and we need to leverage them and find what they have to contribute to the local skills base."

Development of the local economy needs to be based on collaboration, not just competition, he emphasised. And we would benefit by "branding our place". Working together we could develop the "Tasman" brand and stick it on everything we make and ship out, especially for food and wine.

Darryl Wilson, Wilsons Abel Tasman

Darryl started out asking the questions: Why should visitors stop in Motueka? Why stay? What is our "story"? We need to tighten up on our message to tourists, especially our online stories.

Integral to this, he said, was for tourism operators and the community as a whole to become more familiar with the various cultures of the people who visit and to accommodate their needs and preferences. Our stories need human interaction, not just pamphlets, to bring them to life.

He showed a 1960s Selwyn Toogood film clip about central Motueka which not only drew great hilarity but also showed just how little Motueka's main retail area has changed over the past half century.

Speaking about the tourism industry, he said all tourism operators need to "get on the same page", and to consolidate the efforts and promotions of the various groups involved into some sort of central organisation.

Tourism also needs to leverage the other key regional industries through collaborations such as local foods and wines, through joint marketing campaigns, especially overseas. And we need to recognise that we are part of a region and not concentrate too heavily on promoting just Motueka.

Everyone in the region needs to work toward finding ways to "slow tourists down" so they spend more time in the region and not just whip in and out as quickly as they can.

And Darryl bemoaned the fact that the internet "footprint" of Motueka is pathetically small. Websites that tell our stories, showcase the region and sell our products are simply inadequate compared with other regions.

Judene Edgar, Tasman District Councillor    (Download her speech notes here)

As chair of the council's Community Development committee, Judene spoke with passion about what really makes a community - it's not just the core infrastructure but also the health of its business sector and the quality of its community facilities such as libraries and parks.

She talked of the key roles of council in the facilitation of business development, pointing out that TDC is working on a new framework in which council wants to work with and help businesses. The aim is to try to be more business friendly, "get out of the way", reduce barriers but be more supportive of business venture - a tricky balance to achieve, especially when bureaucracy tries to be risk averse.

But the key roles that local government offer businesses, she said, are to provide stable local democracy, which attracts investment; allocate natural resources through legal requirements; create and maintain core infrastructure; and create a "sense of place" that attracts people and businesses through reserves, community facilities, celebrations etc.

Having good infrastructure and community facilities gives private investors confidence to put money and business initiatives into the area. "It's like making a house a home," she said.

Motueka needs to make itself "a place where talent wants to live", by growing talent through good schools, retaining that talent through fulfilling jobs, importing talent that wants to live here, and connecting talented people with their peers.

David Easton, Easton Apples Ltd

David spoke about why we should celebrate and leverage the fact that our local climate and soils mean we grow the best apples in the world, "converting sunshine into apples".

The Eve brand is an example of grower collaboration working well, because it's totally kiwi owned, grown and sold.

The local skill base is very high, but the use of RSE workers is crucial to getting crops picked when needed, so it's "critical for Motueka to support the RSE scheme", he said.

But it's not just orchard labouring that provides most of the jobs. As orchards get bigger, the need for more skilled people will grow, and Motueka should consider setting up educational opportunities to provide employees cadetships and university qualifications. More mechanisation will also provide opportunities for R & D and manufacturing.

David said the region is great for growing other crops including kiwifruit, boysenberries, grapes and aromatics, but the hops industry is letting itself down as there are big opportunities there that are not being taken.

Doug Saunders-Loder, Talley's    (Download his speech notes here)

Doug gave a well-received presentation beginning with the challenge: "We can't just sit back and wait for ideas to flow into town to make things better".

And we can't rely just on greater volumes to get more income - production needs to be sustainable and responsible. And Council needs to help and stop being so risk-averse. (He then praised Cr Judene Edgar for her encouraging comments.)

After explaining the work he does at Talley's in negotiating and managing fishing quote, and providing figures about the jobs (over 350 employees) and income from his industry, he put forward a number of ideas about how the town's business scene could be enlarged through some innovative projects.

The one which received attention by the Nelson Mail was the development of a world-class marina at Port Motueka, to house and service recreational and industrial boats. This would bring huge amounts of money that would be spent in the town - around $1.5 million per year from hosting 100 boats. This project should be "advanced aggressively".

He also encouraged people to see the Jack Inglis Friendship Hospital as an asset that provides employment and brings older people and their offspring to the town to live.

The aerodrome and aviation training college offered scope for further development, and Doug suggested the establishment of a specialised academy or school for training people in primary industries.

And leveraging this region's unique ability to grow the crop, why not develop Motueka as the craft beer capital of New Zealand? And extend this to cider, to use waste apples?

Ru Collin, Kono Horticulture

Ru began by explaining that the forward vision that iwi have for the Motueka area has a horizon of 150 years and longer, but that iwi want to be involved in the future planning and changes in the town.;

Using maps, he showed the industrial work being done by Wakatu and Kono in zones on the west side of town. Kono works actively with partners in collaborative ventures and wants this to grow, but it is important that you "choose the right partners to collaborate with, who share your own values".

The goal of his organisation is to "move KonoHort from a group of orchards to a vertically integrated agri-business". They also want to be owners of intellectual property (IP) rather than working with investors who own IP.

Debbie Smith, Bays Apparelmaster

Debbie's presentation both amused and challenged the audience as she told the story of how she turned a two-person domestic dry cleaning business into one servicing the area from Golden Bay to Kaikoura, employing at least 35 people, and turning over 50 times their initial income.

Her goal was to show business people how taking chances and putting in the hard work required can allow them to extend their markets beyond the Motueka area, perhaps making Nelson our market rather than Motueka being Nelson's market.

She said growth develops enthusiasm, and suggested that one of her limiting factors is the on-going shortage of appropriate labour to work in her business.

She finished with a few suggestions about making the local business scene more vibrant: create a festival event outside the summer season, brighten up our shops, show happier faces behind shop counters, open longer and consistent hours, and plead with wealthy shop owners to help new businesses set up rather than overpricing premises.

David Armstrong, Vision Motueka    (Download his speech notes here)

The final few minutes of the long meeting amounted to a call to action. "What next?" David asked.

"So what could result from today? Are you interested in being part of some kind of strategic thinking, perhaps some collaborative venture or a task force where those willing to put their hands up can work together to produce better results for us all.

"I hope that as a result of seeing the sheer number of concerned people all in one place, and hearing the ideas of a few of our business leaders, some of you may be feeling that if enough of us continue on together and create some strategies for the longer term, and commit to them, we could start to build a better future. There will be few quick fixes if any, but we can take steps that will see a better town by 2030."

He asked that anyone who wanted to take part in some kind of task force or discuss ideas, to give their names so that further, focused meetings could be organised soon. About 40 people responded.



Comment by William Cleaver:
[Posted 30 August 2014]

Well done on the summit. I think you need to look beyond the speaches and ask why. Motueka is a old school town and will be for some time yet. Like the festival of lights the Economic summit will start with vim and vigour but will fizzle out with support loosing faith.

Comment by Patsy O'Shea:
[Posted 31 August 2014]

Well, the glass can be half or whatever, but it's up to us to use it. After all we have some of the best water in the country!! We don't have to stay 'old school' - we can lead the pack here, from celebrating the historical success of our great little place in the sun, to being ready to make the very best of the next opportunity that comes along. Could be industrial, sporting, entertainment etc etc. Just let's BE READY and show that we do have the energy to get things going and KEEP them going. Well done and good luck.

Comment by Jim Butler:
[Posted 31 August 2014]

The way forward on this constructive talkfest was stated by David Armsrong in his summing up, by saying "What next", and by Patsy O'Shea's comment "Do we have the energy to keep things going ?". Unfortunately Motueka suffers under the dead hand of TDC whose mandarins, based in the Richmond area, seem to consider they know best the needs of Motueka, rather than local residents, because they have letters after their names.

And just to put the boot in, every year TDC takes about $2 million from the Motueka Ward to help pay their wages. Money mostly spent in the Richmond area. So compared with Richmond, no wonder Motueka remains in the doldrums.

So what next for Motueka? Will all this effort fizzle out as William Cleaver fears. Or will local residents like David Armstong have the energy to keep things going? Only time will tell.

Comment by Marion Edwin:
[Posted 1 September 2014]

Thanks enormously to the group of people that were the think tank and energy behind the Motueka Economic Summit held last week. It was thrilling to hear from our great local entrepreneurs and business leaders, and exciting to be part of an audience with focussed energy to see positive change. Despite that some people tend to see their glass as merely half empty, I can see that ours is definitely well over half full, and that there is a tap of beautiful fresh water nearby for top-ups!

If you are not a part of the solution, you are probably a part of the problem. Let's all get out there and be a part of building our town and our region to be even more fabulous.

And PS - stop whinging!

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