It is June this year and the occasion is the Auckland Reception during the Tripartite Economic Alliance summit in Los Angeles. An 80-strong Auckland group, of businesspeople, council representatives and invited guests, is presenting and selling the city's growth story.
The US and Chinese entrepreneurs and investors are intrigued by Auckland's innovation and opportunities.
Business cards were swapped, connections were made, and the Americans and Chinese were certainly made more aware of what lies beyond their horizons in Auckland.
The Economic Alliance between Auckland, Los Angeles and Guangzhou is just one avenue -- albeit a major one -- where Ateed can promote projects and attract crucial overseas investment. "The economic alliance is a way of focussing attention on Auckland in two of the world's leading cities -- Los Angeles and Guangzhou," says Ateed chief executive, Brett O'Riley.
He says through the council's Economic Development Strategy review and informally through countless meetings and presentations "we have realised that Auckland needs a cohesive and integrated story based around its growth -- a story that makes us stand out as an investment opportunity.
"We are a long way from the rest of the world, and we have to convince the investor what's more compelling about Auckland than other cities. Not only has Auckland's growth been largely sight unseen to New Zealanders, it's been anonymous to the rest of the world.
"We have to be very clear about the investment proposition -- what is on offer, what are the regulatory hurdles and constraints, what support is there from local and central government, and what sort of exit strategy is there for the investor," O'Riley says. "We have recognised that while we view some of our projects -- City Rail Link, five-star hotels -- as being large, by global standards they are quite small.
"Often investors arrive here knowing very little about Auckland and New Zealand. They want to know about the labour market, taxation system, business environment and lifestyle -- and given the amount of work the investors need to do in terms of due diligence and transaction costs, they are looking for scale and a return to justify his investment up front.
"What we are seeing in many cases is that investors have a real passion for New Zealand, and are willing to make their returns over a longer period because they have a commitment to the city and its future. This is particularly the case with investor migrants who have decided to call Auckland home."
Auckland faces a significant challenge to generate and attract the investment necessary to achieve its stated aim of becoming the world's most liveable city. There is a $10 billion funding shortfall for transport alone over the next 10 years -- involving projects such as $2.4 billion City Rail Link, rapid transport system, Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (Ameti), and second harbour crossing.
It's estimated over 30 years more than $30 billion will be required to fund projects in the Auckland Plan. There's the Wynyard Quarter regeneration, and commercial and residential centres to be built around key transport hubs.
Further direct business investment is required to meet the goals contained in the Economic Development Strategy -- such as increasing exports, productivity and real GDP growth.
We are keen to see infrastructure investment that will directly create high-value jobs in advanced industries that will drive export-led growth for Auckland.
Ateed has pursued ways to promote and market infrastructure investment -- attending roadshows, conferences and hosting visiting business delegations; participating in central government activities and partnering with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Immigration NZ to pursue opportunities; working with major banks, investment brokers and consultants.
It has built a strong investor network through mayoral delegations to China, US, Korea, Singapore and Australia -- and has leveraged events such as the America's Cup in San Francisco and the Cricket World Cup in Auckland to tell business groups the growth story.
O'Riley says "the Indian investors we hosted in Auckland during the cricket had not been here before -- they thought our growth story was around primary production and tourism, not advanced industries. They started identifying new opportunities and we are progressing a number of those relationships."
Ateed has also developed the Aroha Auckland investor aftercare programme where it maintains contact with individuals and multi-nationals who have invested in the city.
O'Riley emphasises investment in infrastructure is not just about transport, housing, hotels and commercial office buildings. "We are keen to see infrastructure investment that will directly create high-value jobs in advanced industries, which will drive export-led growth for Auckland.
"Advanced industries are typically characterised by research and development intensity and strong innovation -- sectors such as food and beverage, ICT, screen and digital, health technology and high-value manufacturing.
"That's why Ateed on behalf of Auckland Council has invested in the GridAKL innovation precinct in Wynyard Quarter. GridAKL has stimulated investor interest and helped spur other initiatives in the city, airport, Takapuna, Smales Farm and Albany.
"We have The FoodBowl innovation centre near the airport, and we are moving on the development of a Screen Innovation and Production Precinct, with Hobsonville Point the preferred location," O'Riley says.
The Auckland Investment Office has called for expressions of interest to develop the 10ha screen precinct, and Ateed will be presenting the committed private sector interest for the council's Development Committee by October 31.
O'Riley says there has been strong interest from private investors. "We have told the story about government screen incentives, co-production agreements with China, the capability of the local sector, and the potential of companies to relocate to the precinct."
It could include a world-class price competitive studio production complex for movies, television and games, with potentially an adjacent film school and associated commerce.
A massive wave of innovation-leading investment is hitting the tertiary education sector. More than a billion dollars is going into infrastructure at Auckland's universities and tertiary institutions -- paid for by a mixture of mechanisms including philanthropy. "Auckland University has a new science building and the Newmarket research and development campus; AUT has building activity for its southern campus in Manukau, and its Millennium Centre has a new Olympic 50m pool; Massey University has a new engineering and science building and students accommodation at Albany; and MIT has its new business campus at Manukau," says O'Riley.
"On the tourism front, Sky City is building the New Zealand International Convention Centre -- essential for Auckland and Ateed's commitment, through our Visitor Plan, to reduce the seasonality for the visitor economy."
O'Riley says overall Ateed's focus is trying to make investment happen faster and maximising the ability to generate thousands of high value jobs -- "the screen precinct alone would create more than 400 jobs," he says.
"We want Aucklanders to have the prospect of being able to work in a higher wage economy, and the partnerships we have developed with industry, the tertiary sector and central government is making this a reality," he says.