“You are pioneers.” That was the message International business observer Rod Oram imparted to 65 Kapiti-Horowhenua business people and decision makers attending the Electra Business Forum on Tuesday 9th April 2013.
Local electricity distribution company Electra organised the day-long Forum to identify opportunities and develop actions to position Kapiti-Horowhenua to realise the area's commercial growth potential.
Oram told the Forum that through adapting extensive international experience, Kapiti-Horowhenua is well placed to shape its fortune. He suggested that the area's strong business leadership could be the basis on which it forges a path to reinvent and reinvigorate the local community and economy, a challenge he says is in front of all urbanised centres around New Zealand.
Kapiti-Horowhenua business sectors identified by Oram as having international market potential included IT and technology, manufacturing, and food. But he cautioned that to achieve a balanced local economy, focus was also needed on sectors with more domestic potential such as distribution and logistics, property development, retail, and aged care.
Oram highlighted what he calls the phenomenal power of clusters which can help smaller players achieve global scale through aggregation of resources and global leadership through intense innovation. Oram cites the example of Dalton, Georgia, USA, a town which though half the size of Invercargill, has reinvented itself as the carpet capital of the world.
Clusters were also one of the powerhouses of growth promoted by Business NZ Chief Executive Phil O'Reilly, who also encouraged collaboration and focusing on Kapiti-Horowhenua's points of difference.
Those points of difference were picked up on by Todd Property Group's (Paraparaumu Airport developer) Sir Noel Robinson, who told the forum they should see Kapiti-Horowhenua as sitting at the heart of the new regional economy. “Close to major population centres, we are one of the few areas that has large holdings of flat serviced land. This makes us a sitter for distribution, service and logistical operations.”
Robinson says that Kapiti-Horowhenua possessed the three big ticket items for business location:
Alignment of central government, local government and private enterprise was a common theme throughout the day's presentations. Robinson maintains the central government platform is in place with progress on Transmission Gully and Sandhills Expressway, and the multi-million dollar investment on the Kapiti train network and stock. “When the roading infrastructure comes on stream I think we'll see economic and population growth rates climb higher.”
Of concern to Robinson though, was the high degree of retail leakage – spending heading outside the region, which he reports as high as 30 per cent and for food and beverage, 50 per cent. Another concern was the planning limits placed on businesses in the area. He also pointed out “Currently the income the Kapiti Coast District Council receives from rates is 95 per cent residential and only 5 per cent commercial. On average, districts similar to Kapiti Coast are about 70 per cent residential to 30 per cent commercial. “That simply means not enough business is being done. We need to remove restrictions on business to take risks, develop new ideas and create jobs.”
Part of the solution according to Robinson is more mixed use development such as Todd Properties proposes to create at Kapiti Landing Business Park, where service, industrial, logistics and manufacturing businesses are mixed with retail. “The best outcome is when people can live, work, shop and play in the same area.”
During the Forum, participant workshop sessions were led by Professor Hamish Gow of Massey University exploring how the region might acquire the ingredients it needs, and to secure the ‘master chefs' to make it happen. Ideas floated for discussion included encouraging multi-nationals into our region, strategies to encourage reverse commuting, better use of the internet and ways to embrace and leverage off the region's lifestyle advantages.
Trish McKelvey, Chair of Electra, was encouraged by the positive engagement of the business people at the Forum and the outcomes.
A year down the track Electra has now worked with other strategic partners and business leaders to take some of the ideas raised during the Forum and assess their feasibility for further development and implementation.
A group called the Regional Growth Initiative Co-ordination Committee was set up to focus on the key ideas raised in the forum and its report is highlighted below.