Kim Campbell is chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern).
What's the climate like for small manufacturers at the moment?
The global financial crisis was a really difficult time everywhere in the world and for New Zealand it hit hard and sharp. What didn't kill you made you stronger and that's certainly been the case for the manufacturing sector.
There are also certain sectors that are doing really well now. For example, there's been a lot of activity in the building and infrastructure sectors, so anyone that does anything related to that - from fabricators to servicing companies - are really getting a big push from the Christchurch rebuild.
And the exporters who have survived have done so because they're doing clever things, particularly with technology. New Zealanders are early adopters of technology - we've had to be, to get our labour costs down - so we're seeing a lot of technologies like 3D printing and CAD being used.
That combination of the use of technology and having been through difficult times - along with a bit of a tail wind from other things going on in the economy - is starting to create some very interesting success stories.
What opportunities are there for smaller manufacturers?
We have to say goodbye to low value-added businesses that rely on cheap, busy hands because there are always going to be places where busy hands are cheaper. The real opportunity for us is to focus on a quality story and not to join the race to the bottom. If you can proudly say to prospective buyers 'you can't afford this; this is too good for you', that gets people's attention. It's about being staunch on our prices and knowing our prices are worth it. For our smaller manufacturers, though, the hard thing is to really know that your value is there and convincing your customers that what you've got is worth the money.
Are there some industries where that quality story is easier to tell - the food industry, for example, where consumers are increasingly concerned about what goes into what they eat?
It's called providence. There's now what I call a 'generation why', as in 'why am I buying this?' They care about what they're using and want to know what's in their products so they get online with apps and social media to find out. That's not a phenomenon unique to New Zealand consumers but if you're in a country, as we are, where you can pretty much prove the providence of your products you have a huge competitive advantage.
It's also about making your small size your advantage. There's an old saying: 'it's not the big that eat the small; it's the fast that eat the slow' and that's totally relevant for New Zealand. We do small and small can be fast and flexible - but we'd better make sure we're good at it.
What do you think small manufacturers will be asking for in this election year?
Firstly, they want good transport links, to make sure stuff can get to them and they can get stuff to customers. Secondly, they want access to skilled people who can do their work - people who can show up on time, get along with others, will buy into the story and be loyal to the cause. Thirdly, they need access to land and places to do their work and, lastly, good access to capital. A growing economy also helps.
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