The recently released Bay of Plenty Regional Growth Strategy stresses the importance of growing the Maori economy and the contribution Maori can make to overall regional growth.

"We can bring assets and expertise to bear," said Te Ururoa Flavell, the Minister for Maori Development and Associate Minister for Economic Development, at the strategy's launch.

"There's a desire by Maori to move into new areas of commerce. I think the community has to recognise that we are big players - we don't want to just be sitting at the side."

Antoine Coffin
Antoine Coffin

Maori account for 25 per cent of the Bay of Plenty's population, compared with 13 per cent nationally, with the proportion higher in the Eastern and Central sub-regions.

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The growth strategy said Maori were key to the region achieving its economic potential.

"Maori participation cuts across all economic opportunities in the Bay of Plenty," the study said.

"Maori are already significant participants in land-based industries (such as forestry, dairy, sheep and cattle farming, horticulture and aquaculture), as well as the visitor industry."

In addition, Treaty settlements agreed or transferred in the region since 2002 totals more than $450 million, most of it transferred in the last five years, with many settlements still to take place.

The study notes the range of Maori business activity is based largely on traditional land assets, with Maori freehold land in the region totalling more than 400,000 hectares - 29 per cent of the total Maori land resource nationwide. And the land holdings have increased significantly in the last decade through historical Treaty settlements.

"A large proportion of the asset base is land, much of which is under-utilised," said the strategy. "This, combined with interests in geothermal resources, means that Maori will be a key partner in developing a number of the opportunities identified throughout this report."

Mr Flavell emphasised the need for sustainable development, which respected water resources and the environment, and increasing the emphasis on raising skill levels for young Maori.

"Iwi and Maori groups throughout the country are doing amazing things that will help advance all of the ingredients needed to achieve a better local economy," he said.

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Antoine Coffin, deputy chairman of the Bay of Connections Maori Advisory Group, told the growth strategy progress had already been made under He Mauri Ohooho, launched in 2014 as New Zealand's first regionally co-ordinated Maori Economic Development Strategy, created under the Bay of Connections framework. He Mauri Ohooho focuses on boosting income, employment, health and education outcomes. "Current operations and investments are successful, but there are productivity improvements that can be made, particularly through land aggregation and collaboration."

Mr Flavell said there were strong synergies between the strategy, He Mauri Ohooho, and the national Maori Economic Development strategy. "It's all very well to have a strategy," he said. "The idea is to bring all the parties together and say, this is where we want to head, and give Maori the tools to move forward."