Looking back at who made the news 2012

By Rosemary Roberts

KERRY COURT of Maromaku plays the wild clansman at the 2012 New Year's Day Waipu Highland Games, held on January 2 because the first day of the year was a Sunday. The rescheduling honours the settlement's Presbyterian tradition which frowned on fun and games on the Sabbath. Monday's perfect weather, convinced the Scots descendants they really had done the right thing.

TRAVIS O'MALLEY of Oakura Bay Stores and The Tin Tui Cafe, Whangaruru, watches his income melting away before his eyes in the height of summer when a large outage cuts power to his 23 full chillers for more than a day. Holidaymakers head for home as water and petrol pumps fail, toilets fail to flush and fridges and freezers fall. The couple, who can't afford a generator big enough to keep all their chillers going through summer, lose thousands of dollars in income and ruined stock.

Former Northland Port Corporation chair and businessman MIKE DANIEL stirs up media attention when he says Ports of Auckland's plan to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure and dredging is "ridiculous when given a financial leg-up Northland could comfortably receive and transfer cargoes to Auckland." Aucklanders will then be able to "reclaim their magnificent waterfront now increasingly dominated by huge gantries and ever-higher stacks of containers." TV3's John Campbell takes him up in a plane to say the same things on camera while flying over Northland Port.

Veteran musician and Whangarei businessman DAVE RYAN, 45 years in business, closes his CBD store and moves in with another well-known Whangarei firm, Wards MusicWorks, as an independent operator. A few years ago he dispensed with the original name, Musicor Records & Tape Ltd but the current title, Musicor Compact Discs & DVDs, is on the brink of being outdated, too. He attributes survival to people "who still like to discuss music and have access to a supplier who can locate specialist items."

WARWICK BELL, a director and co-owner of Whangarei firm Fabric Structure Systems, creates Textile Fabrication Services to exploit increasing demand for quality fabrication services from design companies in Australia, the US and Europe, and sets up the business in the 20 x 50sq m former currency manufacturing hall at the old Whangarei Money Factory. FSS is a design and build company making architectural tensioned membrane structures and large air-supported structures, based in the Palmer Canvas building in Lower Dent St. FSS grew out of Palmer Canvas, just as Textile Fabrication Services has now grown out of FSS. Space was already tight in Lower Dent St, hence the move across the river to the former Money Factory.

The opening of the new environmental Big Splash boat ride at Rotorua's Rainbow Springs by Prime Minister John Key is a great moment for TREVOR BARFOOTE whose firm Barfoote Construction won the $1.8 million contract to make the 431m flume, especially as ride designer Intamin did not believe Barfoote's can do the business. Swiss-based Intamin said the flume had to be poured on-site at Rainbow Springs because there was barely a few millimetres leeway allowable in the finished flume size. So pre-stressed concrete specialist Barfoote, which has built cowsheds around NZ, in the US and Sth America, along with items for the local market like bridge beams and tilt-slab building walls, designed a mould for a section of flume, poured in the concrete, put it on the back of his ute, drove to Rainbow Springs and said to Intamin "this is how we can do it." The Whangarei-made flume was exactly to specifications. He was offered the contract.

The water ride is a nine-minute interactive journey ending with a plunge down a chute into a lake.Intamin is now considering using Barfoote's construction method for any future rides around the world.

SHAYNE HEAPE sells his share in large timber processing company Rosvall Sawmill to co-directors Mark Hansen and John Rosvall and goes back to his roots, setting up a company with long-time associate Lindsay Gray and Gray's son Stephen to buy Rosvall's Whangarei ITM and frame and truss plant. Shayne Heape and Lindsay Gray were part of the group of Northlanders who founded ITM in 1991. ITM is now a multimillion-dollar operation with 93 stores and second only to Placemakers in the market.

SEAN PETERS, popular owner of leading live music venue Salut Bar & Brasserie in Bank St, Whangarei, leaves town when his business goes into liquidation, brought down by recession and a downturn in business around the time of the Rugby World Cup, says liquidator Steve Bennett. Later Nick Keene and Esther Eves, owners of Tutukaka's Schnappa Rock Restaurant, open a new bar/restaurant on the site, The Bank St Social Club.

Also liquidated: Flames International Hotel at Onerahi; Classics Games, Books & Puzzles (now tenanted by expanded gift and decor shop The French Hen); Legends Sports Bar (where Alex de Mars is opening a Tex-Mex food bar) and the waterfrontTahuna Reef Restaurant (the LoneStar franchise may go in here). Women's fashion store Kooky, founded by former Whangarei resident Suzanne Lee Dunn, closes when the 14-store chain goes into liquidation.

Expat South African KEVIN CARROLL opens a tobacconist in the Whangarei CBD, Smoko's Discount Tobacco Specialist. He has three other shops, in Auckland, Hamilton and Thames. As required by legislation the shop has no signage but has survived. "About a quarter of the adult population make the choice to smoke and in my view this is the most responsible way to sell tobacco products. I am doing nothing illegal."

Auckland-based businessman/director and Northland Port Corp chair COLIN MITTEN is appointed inaugural chair of Northland Inc Ltd, a council-controlled organisation of the Northland Regional Council for economic development, blending the roles of Destination Northland (the regional tourism organisation) and Enterprise Northland Trust (the regional economic development agency).

MP MIKE SABIN held a two-part Northland Economic Summit mid-year attended by about 200 Northland leaders at each session. The second session drew up action plans for nine sector groups and 14 people were appointed to form the Northland Economic Advisory Group: Bronwyn Hunt, Shane Lloyd, Russell Shaw, Paul Binney, Barry Trass, David Kelly, Chris Reid, John Roy, Stephen Allen, Pita Tipene, Paul Hebberd, James Parsons, Michael Bruce and Dennis Maconaghie. A work in progress, but not much visible yet.

CHRIS CAREY, CEO of Whangarei's Culture Heritage Arts Resource Trust and Creative Northland, challenges commercial and creative businesses to "think weird" to forge creative new paths to success, at the inaugural Totems & Totara creative symposium.

Northland Regional Council member IAN WALKER takes a potshot at Creative Northland. "The organisation is dreaming if it thinks the creative sector has a show of significantly lifting regional economic performance." Chris Carey disagrees, saying Northland creative talent had the potential to be a key economic driver for the region.

Whangarei businessman/farmer VIC HILL draws attention to the way the second Christchurch earthquake has put heritage buildings at risk, including his own Grand Hotel, because of tighter building controls. He says he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring the 112-year-old hotel up to seismic standards only to find the bar may be lifted yet again. "There's a limit to how much you can spend and I've reached it."

Matakohe Kauri Museum CEO BETTY NELLEY faces a shocking decline in coach visitors due to Australians opting for cheap cruises rather than air and bus travel, meaning port visits but little inland touring. On the other hand, the museum wins an award from Australian coach company Grand Pacific and she has been heartened by signs that some cruise passengers feel they are not meeting Kiwis or seeing enough of the country and may be returning to air and bus travel.

CHRIS DOUGLAS of Northland Scaffolding is elected national president of Scaffolding, Access & Rigging NZ, which represents most of the country's scaffolding companies. He says training will be a strong focus, because of loss of personnel to Australia and demand from the Christchurch rebuild.

KEN RIVERS, CEO of Refining NZ, sees through shareholder acceptance of the $365 million CCR project which will lift the refinery's capabilities, and create about 300 on-site jobs and hundreds more off-site in the next four years. This is his farewell present to the north: He announces he will be returning to the UK at the end of the year.

Whangarei District Council building compliance manager BRUCE ROGERS is in the hot seat as the on-going effects of the Christchurch quakes change all the rules for the built environment. The WDC announces that eight Whangarei commercial buildings (unnamed) are awaiting engineering assessment to determine levels of seismic risk. Rogers says there is no cause for alarm. The buildings are among 158 identified in the government's search for buildings which might share similar characteristics to the CTV building, and the assessments are part of a nationwide precautionary review.

Whangarei beat constable SOLOMONE HALAATIAPI tells Whangarei retailers the thing that most worries him is that they often don't even know shoplifters are in the shop. Most of them had no idea until they see CCTV footage or customers tell them what is going on. "Listen up, if customers tell you someone has been thieving. Never turn a blind eye. This gives the message that this behaviour is acceptable and has a negative effect on the community," he says.

SANDRA BOSTON of Kamo opens a distribution centre for her booming on-line business KiwiCakes, which supplies equipment for amateur and professional cake decorators. She says traditional retailers are not going to be wiped out by online trading but ignore the internet at their peril. "At the very least they should incorporate Facebook in their operation." Ms Boston, who started the business just five years ago, updates her Facebook site several times a day with information on anything from specials to new products and the site attracts strong customer interaction.

DENNIS MACONAGHIE, CEO and a director of Whangarei hydraulics specialist McRaes Engineering, oversees the expansion of the hydraulics specialist through acquisition of Global Hydraulics and Controls of Auckland, opening the way to accelerated expansion overseas. The buyout made McRaes one of the largest hydraulics service companies in NZ, employing about 65 staff.

Whangarei Mitre 10 Home & Trade owners JUNE AND DARRYL TILLY surprise by announcing they won't be managing the new Mitre 10 megastore in Porowini Ave, although Mitre 10 had earlier said they would run the new store. The couple's Mitre 10 store at the Regent often topped the company's annual awards and Darryl Tilly served on the board of directors for several years. He would say only that megastores were "pretty big machines" which required $5-7m to set up. The Tillys exited the organisation after the closing down sale of the Home & Trade store.

ELLEN ALTSHULER, settlement support co-ordinator for the Whangarei District Council, launches the service's new employer information pack, saying "taking simple common-sense steps to help a new employee settle in will benefit the business and the employee." Redundancies are now hitting the migrant population, which was a big blow because many have been recruited from overseas during the boom period and have no idea how to compete on the New Zealand, she says.

MegaSurf Ltd owner RICHARD LANGDON wins a stoush with Auckland firm Waterstone Insolvency due to a misdirected liquidation order, to the delight of customers. Waterstone tried to put him into liquidation when he made a stand on a matter of principle relating to returning unsold clothes to a liquidated manufacturer. He had the standard arrangement with the sales rep under which the clothes remain the property of the manufacturer until sold. The retailer pays for what is sold and returns the rest. Langdon sold $200 worth and sent back the unsold goods, as arranged. Waterstone told him he would have to pay for the lot ($1000 worth). When he refused they served a liquidation order on MegaSurf Ltd - but this was his non-trading shell company. Waterstone admitted defeat and retreated with egg on its face. Richard Langdon says a lawyer has told him the Waterstone could have spent up to $10,000 trying to recover the $800.

DAVID HALL is one of a number of people defying recession to start small businesses, in his case a bakery at 81 Port Rd, Whangarei. He says he has been waiting for years to open his own bakery and suddenly didn't want to wait any longer, no matter what the economic outlook. Six weeks after opening in mid-August he says trade is improving every day and he is preparing twice the original amount of dough.

GRAEME CUNDY, owner of Dicken Inn in the Whangarei CBD, sees red about the new Whangarei District Council draft Alfresco Dining Policy, and leads hospitality industry protests at a meeting to discuss the policy with Whangarei District Council representatives. The policy was developed after extensive research on current practice in other main centres, taking into account law changes on issues like health and safety. Graeme Cundy tells the WDC the policy is not all bad but that the industry strongly objects to the proposed 3m footpath wide width for alfresco dining which "would kill alfresco dining in the CBD." Proposals on signage height height, barrier screens, outdoor speakers had also got up their collective noses. WDC district living group manager Paul Dell tells the meeting "we certainly don't want to be the fun police. We'll take on board all views and work with the industry to establish common ground for a consistent, workable policy."

SHANNON KEANE AND MARK SMITH decide to head for Australia. Shannon Keane, 26, leaves as soon as he has completed the rare double of two apprenticeships (fabrication and fitter/turner) with Whangarei Engineering Co Ltd, wanting to test his skills in a bigger country. He starts searching for a job when he arrives in Perth.

Mark Smith, founder of award-winning IT company Magnetism Software Solutions, is offered a high paid job in Sydney as Asia-Pacific national practice manager for Birchman Group - without being interviewed. Magnetism has grown from two to 22 employees in seven years. Mark wants to continue on the firm's steady upward trajectory; the board thinks otherwise and there is a parting of the ways. He says he'll be back because he wants to help build an IT industry in Whangarei, asking what's not to like about a sector that is clean, with opportunities for advanced training, international work and high incomes without having to relocate, combined with international leverage opportunities through Northpower's early roll-out of fibre-optic cabling.

ROB KIRWAN, manager of Culham Engineering, can finally talk about a major contract the company has almost completed for Kiwirail. The contract is for four rail bridges, two weighing 190 tonnes each, the other two, 90 tonnes each, for installation in South Auckland. He says the good news had to be kept under wraps because of a confidentiality agreement and makes the point that the contract is bigger than the spans for Whangarei's lower harbour crossing. Culhams missed out on that contract which went to an engineering firm in China.

ANDY MAYHEW, marketing manager for The Strand shopping centre, discussing ways of drawing people into the Whangarei CBD, says "retailer lethargy doesn't help. We have a beautiful CBD, we just have to work together together to get the message out, so people will head for town thinking 'I want to spend my money here because I will get what I want and I will have a great shopping experience and I will have fun."

KEN WILSON of Advantage Business, speaking on behalf of the judges' panel for the 2012 Westpac Northland Business Excellence Awards, says on awards night: "We are in the middle of a recession - so what? This is the reality of our environment ... we can still find ways of changing things and we can still get on with the task of being the best we can be."

- Northern Advocate

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