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Growing our economy
It’s easy for anyone seeking office to talk about growth.
Not growth for growth’s sake, but for Wellington to take a larger slice of the economic pie—because we are a city that punches above our weight.
A global hub for innovation
Last time out, I said that Wellington could be a global hub for innovation, because of the innovative thinking of our people. I still believe we can be: by exporting ideas through licensing, some thing I’ve done through most of my career, we can create frictionless exports and high-value jobs.
By working with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Grow Wellington, and our property owners, we can revitalize parts of our city to create an innovation hub, one that will prepare us for the 2010s and 2020s—before other New Zealand centres do the same thing.
Even as manufacturers—remember there are 13,000 people employed in that sector—we have advantages. If only we had the right connections and the right leadership to encourage that. Someone who knows first-hand what is needed—and even what danger signs appear for our businesses.
We need to avoid a “race to the bottom” with low-wage jobs where Wellingtonians could see their roles easily taken over by cheap, third-world nations.
Imagine how thrilled I was when the late Sir Paul Callaghan gave his speech in 2011 at the Wellington Town Hall, where so many of my own thoughts were confirmed by someone who had done some rigorous academic research on the area.
Twenty thirteen has made me even more determined about this direction.
When it comes to events, Wellington can stay on-message. Already home to a TED talk in Te Aro, Wellington can go further and be the home of more events, including one celebrating design and creativity, enhancing our city’s message more. It’ll show Wellington to be well rounded alongside our sporting events, and, given the nature of the creative industry, encourage other international, world-class events.
Identifying our next export champions and high-growth firms, and supporting them
With the other mayors in our region, I can work with Grow Wellington to place its focus on not only innovation, but have them use a set of criteria to identify our next export champions. Which firms in Wellington are $1 million outfits that can be $10 million ones with the right nudge, and the right endorsement from our city?
My global connections have seen me work on four continents, including India and China in our own back yard. Let’s bring the right investment in to Wellington—who better than someone who knows these cultures, and can speak numerous languages? There is a demand for the sort of innovations our city generates—just look at Singapore, which is hungry for the next big thing. Why shouldn’t it come from here?
International links to Wellington
That also means working on getting international links to Wellington Airport—and work with the parties who are most worried about that, namely our own airlines. We can help ensure that they won’t be disadvantaged by these connections. The Airport runway should be extended, especially to handle fully loaded jets, and to do that, Wellington needs to put forth a compelling case that it’s clear on where business is heading.
Connecting our business leaders internationally
During 2010, I worked with Vattenfall, the Swedish power company, to bring in an electric car programme to Wellington. I can work with these leaders and connect them to Wellington companies involved in related areas—and generate even more innovation, in an environmentally conscious way. And what of great Wellington companies who deserve an airing overseas? You have an advocate in me, because I’ve spent years promoting my own firm and others already, including my seven years with Business Mentors here. I’ll be encouraging Kiwi companies to grow and take a bigger share globally, supporting majority ownership of companies by New Zealanders.
A tech precinct
We can redevelop the area around upper Cuba Street, right down to Cambridge Terrace, as a high-tech precinct, that will encourage greater collaboration among firms in that sector, attract exciting start-ups (many of whom are already on Cuba Street), and foreign direct investment. Wellington can be New Zealand’s most high-tech city—and if we don’t do it, we can be overtaken by Christchurch when their rebuilding is completed. The time to do it is now.
Connected to this is encouraging some of the former crown research institutes back into the city. Wellington is a smart place—and we can be a hub for this country’s intellectual capital. It’s also why I am in favour of an inner-city park, to acknowledge that modern development requires a proper work–life balance. There are going to be new sites as some buildings will not be worth upgrading, and we can consider those—in line with a stronger vision for our city.
Creating a critical mass for our research and development
Not enough work has been done to foster a fruitful relationship with Victoria University and other tertiary
institutions in our city. Yet the engineering and computing department is growing rapidly—and we can tap in
to the talent there, to show our next bright sparks that Wellington wants their innovative thinking to remain home. Cooperation with Vic, Massey, Weltec, Whitireia and others is very important to make sure we have the talent—and I already have strong connections with the majority of these institutions through years of working directly with them. We can build on this to target critical mass for our R&D in Wellington.
Collaboration is great among our own communities—but even better when we have a global perspective. This is one of many programmes I want to see develop, so we can create world-class products and services.
I can work with property owners to fill up our empty spaces. Pop-up stores and galleries are one idea, collaborative spaces for businesses are another. If it means allowing some retailers to get to a decent turnover, they can move on to better premises.
Many who come to Wellington fall in love with our city because we are generous and smart. The best thing we can show off is our inclusiveness and our creativity. Wellingtonians work together: it’s in our nature. I can work with the Council and sponsors to create more spaces for collaboration, where Wellingtonians can get inspired by one another.
Growing our technological infrastructure
We should continue to grow our technological infrastructure—we can get a lot of bang for the buck when it comes to wifi and connectivity, connecting our libraries and schools, for relatively little investment. I pushed for the free wifi programme here in Wellington in 2010, which has hit record usage, but that was only the prelude. I will make sure that, with the help of Grow Wellington, we can create firms that will become strong employers in this sector.
Getting investment for Wellington
With central government’s focus on Christchurch and Auckland, who looks after Wellington? We are in danger of losing out on business and the arts. It is time to look further afield and connect Wellington to direct investment globally—and to allow those here in our city to invest in foreign firms, too. This can only be done by a leader who has spent a lifetime bridging cultures while remaining, at heart, a New Zealander.
We can’t be reliant on a cap-in-hand attitude when it comes to government: we’re a city that gets things done independently and innovatively, but that takes leadership and someone who understands growing businesses. The economic advantages are a no-brainer.
A regional view of Wellington
Long-term, I believe in growing Wellington as a region. We are in the centre of the country and we have to work with our neighbouring mayors. Even without being in office, I have a good relationship with the Mayor of Hutt City, Ray Wallace. Our region’s business people have been informing me of their plans, and they, too, are looking at Wellington as a whole. We can’t ignore the Wairarapa and the land there—especially in a country that is still largely dependent on primary products. If rates can stay the same or be cut for us, then the region needs to investigate local governance reform. My dealings at the Ministry of Economic Development also show the same long-term vision. We can thrive, and we need to consider the big picture—it’s not just being cool and little, it’s about having a dream and realizing it.
In the city where Xero, 42 Below, Weta, Silverstripe and Trade Me started, we’re used to that.