Waikato’s economic story is largely one of “unrealised potential” which will require the region to leverage its geographic location, according to a major discussion paper released today.

The paper has been prepared on behalf of a governance group* overseeing the development of a Waikato economic development strategy, one of four streams of work initiated by the Waikato Mayoral Forum.

Governance group chair and former Cabinet Minister, the Hon John Luxton, said the discussion paper is an important step towards finalising a Waikato regional economic strategy to be delivered in early 2014.

“Economic growth and performance across the Waikato has been solid and in fact some areas – mainly urban areas – are doing reasonably well,” Mr Luxton said. “But given the massive advantages of our region, including our location the region could be, and should be, doing much better than it has been.”

The paper notes that in 20 years Waikato will face natural resource and labour shortages and that it will be vital for the region to add more value to primary resources and improve labour productivity. It proposes that the Waikato focus on five strategic priorities which aim to improve standards of living and allow all communities and businesses to reach their potential.

“We want economic growth in the region to raise the living standards and well-being of all residents and economies, not just a few,” Mr Luxton said. “But any growth must consider environmental impacts and constraints and any growth in primary industries needs to come from increasing the value of processed products and services.”

The discussion paper suggests the region focus on specific goals to be achieved by 2031, including: growing productivity by one per cent per annum; increasing the proportion of residents with tertiary education from 12 per cent to 20 per cent; lifting value add in key sectors by 80 per cent; and lifting the value of international exports by 1.5 per cent per annum.

It also suggests that an economic strategy for the region focus on leveraging the region’s geographic location, becoming New Zealand’s engineering and manufacturing hub and building excellence in sustainable food production and agri-business.

Mr Luxton said the goals and objectives and five potential priority areas were all “up for debate” and that he was hoping for an intense level of interest in the paper from the regional business community.

“This is about the Waikato’s future as a region and more importantly, what specific actions we must take to get there,” he said. “It’s about business, industry, iwi, central government and local councils all pulling in the same direction because we want the same thing.”

There had already been significant input into the discussion paper from a wide range of sector groups and business interests but targeted discussion needed to start now, he said. In November, the governance group would host five workshops, each focused on a potential strategic priority. Meetings will also be held with interest groups around the region.

“We are hopeful that this paper will form a very good basis for discussion and will drive some very specific actions.”

Mr Luxton said the paper noted a number of potential flagship initiatives. They included supporting the development of the Ruakura hub in Hamilton, establishing and implementing a regional labour market strategy, developing a clear visitor and investment offer and maximising value from primary production.

“What we’re looking for now is feedback. Are these initiatives the most likely to generate significant economic growth? What specific actions would make the biggest difference to innovation and productivity? What must be done for the Waikato to attract more investment?”

The full discussion paper, plus supporting material, is now available online at www.mpdc.govt.nz/waikatomayoralforum.

* Members of the Waikato economic development strategy governance group are:

Hon John Luxton (chair), Waikato District Health Board chair Graeme Milne, Stainless Design Ltd managing director John Cook, University of Waikato economics professor Frank Scrimgeour, chair of the Federation of Maori Authorities Traci Houpapa, Waikato-Tainui chief executive Parekawhia McLean plus members of the Waikato Mayoral Forum Julie Hardaker (Hamilton), Alan Livingston (Waipa), John Tregidga (Hauraki) and Peter Buckley (Waikato Regional Council).

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