Business leaders say the next government must act decisively and quickly to back Kiwi firms and pull the country out of its economic malaise.

One of the biggest issues facing business is the way the country divides resources between traditional exporters and newer technology-driven start-ups.

Entrepreneur Diane Foreman, who is involved with healthcare, recruitment and icecream businesses among others, said traditional exporters were being neglected.

She said unless the country could find ways of adding value, and exporting, things would not get better. Politicians constantly claimed that there was nothing they could do about the exchange rate. "But nothing is done for exporters."


She said many government subsidies were going to high-tech businesses that had not made any profit. Exporters were left struggling with high commodity prices.

"There's no help at all for my business. But the next big deal in IT gets lots of government money."

She said it was seen as boring to invest in traditional exporters. "But [the government is] happy to throw money at a maybe."

But Andrew Hamilton, CEO of business growth centre The Icehouse, said the next government should work on getting scientists and academics into the business world. He suggested offering parachute clauses so academics could spend a year or two in a business.

"That would have to be jointly funded but if more [scientists] went into business, we would get results."

He said New Zealand had many fantastic scientists but lacked entrepreneurs who could pick up technology and deliver it to market.

Foreman said free-trade deals would make a huge difference and the next government should capitalise on as many of them as possible. "It's important that people know that New Zealand is locked out of markets like the US by tariffs."

Her icecream business faced a 19 per cent tariff when exporting to the US. "The door is closed 20 per cent before you even open it, it's impossible."

She said if the government was able to sign up to the Transpacific Partnership, an Asia-Pacific regional trade agreement now being negotiated among the United States and eight partners, it would change New Zealand.

"We can export our way out of what's going on."

Foreman also called for the government to seek a return from its investment in new businesses.

"Government is prepared to invest in high-tech businesses. If they fail, that's seen as just too bad but if they succeed, the government gets nothing. If they are going to use that model, why don't they take a piece of the action?"

Hamilton said the country needed to focus on upskilling its labour force.

"The capability of people doing business is the most important driver of success. The more talented people, the more likely the economy will be successful."

He said the government should offer incentives for firms to invest in sustainable training and education.

BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly agreed, saying more work was needed on building pathways between schools and work or tertiary education.

Hamilton suggested offering a "start-up visa" to US and Asian entrepreneurs who wanted to come to New Zealand.

He also thought the super fund should allocate funding to support fast-growing New Zealand companies.

"I'd like to see government launch a creative, online platform to support new, innovative businesses," he said.

The old ways of raising money, such as listing on the NZX, would be replaced by things such as crowd-funding via the internet, which would also open the business community to expats.

"I'd like to see a bank and government partnership to create a $2 billion NZ growth fund modelled on the UK model." He said the Ministry of Science and Innovation and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise should merge in New Zealand and the NZTE and MFat should be merged overseas to cut costs.

O'Reilly said the next government would need to give urgency to fixing the economy.

He said the first few months of any government were always about building confidence and a good way to do that would be with a statement about regulation. "If you want to build confidence in the business community, one of the best things is to sort out regulation."

He said if he were Prime Minister he would pass the regulatory standards bill, which is languishing in the House. "I would also announce a further review of the Resource Management Act." O'Reilly said it was also important to sort out the Emissions Trading legislation and keep it in line with other countries.

He was also keen to see partial sales of state assets, and for it to be revealed which would be the first target. But he said the first thing the new government would need to do would be to build confidence. "It needs to give the message that we're just going to get on with it and we're not taking it lightly."