The countdown is on to the launch of a promised grunty economic development driver for the Waikato, a region experiencing explosive growth but considered slow to pitch for help to lift productivity.

An establishment board has been appointed for Waikato's first over-arching economic development agency and its chairman, Waikato businessman Dallas Fisher, promises it will be well resourced to do "serious work".

Due for official launch on July 1, the as yet untitled agency will be based at the Waikato Innovation Park in Hamilton and is tasked with attracting business to the region, especially from Auckland, and with adding value to its resources.

Squarely in its sights to help achieve this is the Government's new $1 billion a year Provincial Growth Fund.


Fisher said the agency would have 11 full-time staff and a board of directors whose job would be to identify economic development priority areas, make strong business cases for economic development public funding and investor support, and identify areas within the Waikato region that could benefit from funding support with an added-value focus.

A $150,000 study is under way in the south Waikato to identify business opportunities. It was commissioned by Waikato Means Business, a 20-year Waikato economic strategy devised by regional business leaders, headed by Fisher.

It will be absorbed into the new agency.

Fisher said a formal business case would be developed from the south Waikato study.

"If that's a runner, we'll look to the Government and investors to come up with the dollars to make it happen. To pick up millions of dollars you need a serious business plan."

Waikato businessman Dallas Fisher.
Waikato businessman Dallas Fisher.

Adding value to south Waikato's forestry sector was clearly a starter for consideration, given the political and social focus on New Zealand's housing shortage, Fisher said.

The new agency will be base-funded by Waikato's councils, which between them have committed $400,000 a year to its agenda.

The Waikato Regional Council, which already funds Waikato Means Business, has committed an additional $350,000 a year.

Waikato businesses will be asked to find $500,000 a year.

Fisher said $150,000 of that had been committed.

It's a safe bet that Hamilton resident Fisher, through his co-ownership of Hamilton-based Montana Catering, New Zealand's largest independent caterer and his emergence as a large-scale events investor and organiser, will be a foundation private investor in the new agency.

About to step down as chairman of the Waikato Chiefs rugby franchise after eight years, Fisher headed Waikato's successful bid to bring the Sevens World Series tournament to Hamilton from Wellington in February this year.

Fisher said the Waikato had "a bit of catching up to do" in leveraging its strengths to attract public funding to support economic growth initiatives. "So we are doing this [agency] properly. Without real resources we can't get the real stuff done."

Governments, he said, were only interested in hearing "one voice" when a region wanted economic development funding. Waikato hadn't developed one voice which meant various initiatives had got minimal support.

"We're not going to be eating local people's lunch. Local people know best about local issues. We will be facilitating one voice for the region in speaking to Government, and coming up with agreed business development priorities for the Waikato."

He declined to say how the agency would go about getting that agreement. "We're working on that. We have to put more flesh on it yet."

The establishment board, and subsequent board, would have seven members — five from business and two from local authorities.

Appointed to the establishment board so far are Fisher; former Tourism Waikato executive Kiri Goulter; Kim Hill who is involved in Maori economic development planning; Chris Joblin, chief executive Tainui Group Holdings; Blair Bowcott, Hamilton City Council and Rob Williams, Thames District Council.