The Waikato region is underfunded, underperforming and underwhelming in speaking up for what it needs, say the architects of the region's first economic development agency.
Operational from July 1, the agency's objectives are to lift economic performance across the whole region, attract and grow new business investment and talent, and be one voice for economic development in the country's fourth largest regional economy. "We think all those things are missing," said establishment chief executive Stuart Gordon, who is also head of the Waikato Innovation Park, where the new agency will be based.
The agency will absorb Waikato Means Business, a 20-year economic development strategy created with input from regional business leaders, and the innovation park's business development functions.
A trust has been set up to own the agency company, which will start with annual working capital of $2 million. It will apply for more money from the Government's $3 billion provincial growth fund (PGF).
The $2m budget includes $720,000 from Waikato's local authorities, $250,000 from regional trusts, about $465,000 from business, and $660,000 in government funding which supports the innovation park's business development work.
Harvey Brookes, an experienced economic development consultant who has been contracted to Waikato Means Business for three years and is now helping set up the new agency, said the $2m core operating budget would be used to leverage economic growth funds.
"For every dollar we put into something we want at least $4. The Waikato region is significantly underfunded. If we got our proportionate share of the PGF that's $300 million."
The agency's first job has been to invite 250 business leaders to a two-day summit in August to thrash out priorities.
"At the moment there is no coherent, prioritised list of actions and projects. The only one the Waikato had was the expressway," said Gordon.
"And that wasn't funded by government until the region got its act together," said Brookes.
"Some [projects] will have already been worked out - we want to capture all that - some might need six months to frame up an investment case for. And then there'll be a big base of ideas that will need to be prioritised over the next six to 12 months.
"In effect that creates an agenda for the EDA.
"There's no reason why the Waikato shouldn't be one of the wealthiest regions in New Zealand but somehow it is determinedly average," said Brookes.
Waikato contributed $21b or 8.3 per cent of New Zealand's GDP, latest statistics show. Per capita GDP is $47,119, growing at 1.8 per cent per annum, below the national average of $54,178, growing at 1.9 per cent.
Manufacturing is the largest and fastest growing sector. Agriculture is a significant contributor to the economy but is exposed to dramatic shifts in commodity prices.
A recent report commissioned by Waikato Means Business found local government investment in Waikato economic development, when measured on a per capita basis, was about the same as that invested by other regions.
The report said this had a flow-on effect to central government funding, which was very low compared with other regions.
The job of agency chief executive is being advertised this week and six of the eventual team of 13 staff have been employed. Branding the agency is way down the list of priorities, said Gordon.
Chairman of the agency will be Dallas Fisher, chairman of Waikato Means Business.
The agency will be business-led with no local politicians or council employees on the board which will be finalised later this year.
Waikato Innovation Park will be home to the region's first economic development agency.