Opportunities beyond summer break

By Graham Skellern - Business Editor

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Priority One, which recently launched a new campaign, will next week collect a bucket full of ideas to drive business development and the economy in the Western Bay region.

Western Bay's economic development agency, Priority One is on Tuesday afternoon hosting a business summit called "Shaping Our Future" in the TECT Arena at Baypark, and the workshop will be attended by up to 200 of the region's movers and shakers.

Afterwards, the Priority One team will draw up a master plan for new business growth and include it in "The Tauranga Business Case" campaign that began before Christmas.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

The business attraction campaign is aimed at retaining and expanding local companies, establishing regional hubs here, and attracting businesses from outside the region.

Priority One chief executive Andrew Coker said the summit was a chance to engage leading business people and civic leaders and discuss the types of businesses, industries and services they would like to see here.

"Everyone has a real commitment to increasing the business depth here, and we may get some interesting suggestions about who to approach and where the gaps (in the market) are locally. We can build a case about why they would benefit from operating in the Bay," Mr Coker said.

For instance, there is a need for a high-level food microbiology laboratory in the region because of the growth of food-processing companies and North Island Mussel Processors, he said.

Testing is done in Hamilton and Auckland and exporters have to wait for the results before loading their containers.

"Or the attendees may want us to work on a project such as attracting Australian companies here sooner rather than later," he said.

The summit will assist in forming a more targeted approach to business growth and to identify who to partner in presenting to companies wanting to expand or relocate here.

"The past six years have seen a lot of change in roading and broadband infrastructure, and the port has grown hand over fist. There are a lot of positives here - in terms of lifestyle and competitive advantage - and we have to reinforce that Western Bay and Tauranga is not just a holiday destination but a business location," he said.

"The challenge is to grow beyond the reliance on population growth and one individual sector such as horticulture."

Four of the early speakers at the summit will be Professor Chris Battershill, the University of Waikato's chairman in coastal science; Mark Cairns, Port of Tauranga chief executive; Hemi Rolleston, chief executive of Te Awanui Huka Pak; and Brett Roberts, chief executive of IT consulting firm Wharf42.

They will share their vision of Tauranga and the Western Bay's future.

The summit, facilitated by commentator Rod Oram, will also provide examples of businesses which have benefited from operating in the region.

Short presentations will be made by James Graham, of Multifid Technology International, Steve Wells, of North Island Mussel Processors, Ken Buckthought, from Bidvest's new Western Bay and Coromandel distribution centre, Mike Bassett-Smith, of Powersmart Solar, Brett Hewlett, of Comvita New Zealand, Lain Jager, of Zespri International, and Warwick Downing, of Titanium Industry Development Association.

Mr Coker said Priority One had received seven inquiries after the launch of the business attraction campaign which included erecting billboards alongside Takitimu Drive expressway over the summer holiday season.

He said a South Island manufacturer looking at setting up a manufacturing and distribution operation in the North Island saw the billboard and made contact.

"He was looking at Hamilton as a base and now Tauranga is in the mix," Mr Coker said. Priority One was also in touch with two overseas companies - a food processor in Holland and a leisure products manufacturer in Portugal - and other inquiries had come from Auckland and Wellington.

"These things don't happen overnight but we are able to present a business case proposition."

Mr Coker said the campaign would also be broadened to the eastern seaboard of Australia. He hoped a Western Bay delegation would visit Australia late this year to meet "targetted" companies interested in doing business over here.

"We have competitive labour and land costs, high quality IT infrastructure and a free trade agreement with China," he said. "Australian companies can use our region as a launching pad into China."

Recently, Imperial Tobacco established a cigarette manufacturing operation in Petone, Heinz-Wattie and McCain have set up food-processing facilities in Hastings, and Woolworths and Canon have created call centres in Auckland.

Mr Roberts has been living in Tauranga for eight weeks after moving from Auckland to set up Wharf42, which wants to connect promising start-up IT companies with Silicon Valley in California.

He's surprised there isn't a stronger push to attract more Aucklanders here.

"The Western Bay has the lifestyle, talent pool, good schools, cheaper housing, development land available, and there's a high level of wealth scattered around," he said. "There's a whole bunch of reasons to pull people out of Auckland.

"I would like to see billboards on the southern motorway telling people what the Bay region is really like. I can't be the only one from Auckland and there could be 5000 more where I came from. That would cause more than a ripple in the economy here."

Mr Roberts said it was difficult for people in full-time permanent employment to move. "But there are people in jobs that are not bound by physical location, such as IT. They could be attracted here and I know of one who is toying with the idea of living in Tauranga."

He said the Western Bay could also attract creative firms such as marketing, advertising and public relations companies which can effectively work anywhere.

Mr Cairns said the region was well set up in its roading network and the port was planning 30 to 50 years ahead.

"We've already had businesses relocating here and there will be plenty more," he said. "Exporting companies would benefit by being located close to the port."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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