Economic development agency Auckland Unlimited is way down the track to ensure the country's biggest city is well placed for recovery following the Covid pandemic — and that it becomes an even stronger magnet to attract skilled talent and investment.
Pam Ford, Auckland Unlimited's general manager economic development, says "as a city we have done a tremendous job in containing Covid-19 so far. We have to use this advantage to ensure our economy kicks back into gear even more strongly.
"With Covid comes opportunity. What I'm interested in is the future of Auckland as a place for young people to live and work in. We are using this time to start and build an environment that produces great jobs.
"At the same time, we can't ignore the need to tackle growing inequality issues that Covid accentuates. There is a lot of work to do to enrich the lives of Aucklanders," she says.
Auckland Unlimited kicked off the planning for recovery by organising the Auckland's Future, Now (AFN) summit, with 200 city and business leaders providing input last August. The second AFN summit will be held on May 14 to drive home the actions.
The summit stressed that the private and public sectors must collaborate and work at pace on the best responses and solutions that maintains Auckland's standing as an international city and the economic engine room of New Zealand.
The summit identified five key areas of opportunities:
●Increased investment into technology, advanced manufacturing and creative industries such as film production. The businesses wanted Auckland 'to go hard on tech' with a five-year strategy to make the city a leading hub, domestically and internationally,
●Develop a real-time picture of the skill demands in the workforce and provide more responsive, matching training programmes, and ensure everyone has digital access. At present, 20 per cent of Auckland households don't have access,
●Increase managed isolation and quarantine capacity, transparency and prioritisation of migrants, visitors and investors who create an economic benefit for Auckland,
●Greater promotion such as the Dear NZ, Love AKL and Iconic Eats campaigns to make Auckland friendly, attractive and accessible to domestic visitors, and
●Create new mechanisms for funding game-changing opportunities such as suspensory loans or equivalent for the infrastructure programme or Auckland Growth Fund to accelerate successful businesses.
Ford says one of the most exciting developments is "going hard on technology, Auckland makes up 54 per cent of the New Zealand tech sector, and technology also contributes 10 per cent of the Auckland economy.
"The sector has so much potential in creating jobs, but what we are hearing is the sector needs more young people trained in technology," she says. "All the top companies are taking talent from each other, and we need to grow the pool and create learning systems for young people."
The technology network has already started growing outside the ground-breaking GridAKL campus in Wynyard Quarter.
Ngahere Communities is managing Grid Manukau for ambitious entrepreneurs, content creators and social media providers. Further north in Mt Albert the founding tenants of the ARVR Garage in Eden Terrace have established an expanded Click Studios.
Creative or "deep" technology such as augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, mobile products and solutions, video production and post-production and emerging trends are on show there.
Ford says GridAKL spawned technology neighbourhoods and realised the vision of having an innovation corridor through Auckland.
She says Auckland will at some point need a flow of international talent to help progress major projects and unlock hundreds of jobs for Aucklanders.
"Take the City Rail Link and Central Interceptor wastewater tunnel projects, for example — New Zealand has a shortage of tunnel borers and needs that talent to keep those projects going and provide further jobs.
"Businesses are asking when the border constraints will be eased and we are facilitating a conversation between private sector and government agencies about how to enable greater economic activity without compromising public health," Ford says.
Plenty of talent is required for the booming film sector in Auckland. "It's going great guns. The sector has created excellent protocols to continue operating in alert levels 2 and 3. Because of this stability, three television series scheduled for Australia have been moved to Auckland.
"There are big productions happening and they are taking on people who have lost jobs in other sectors such as hospitality, hotels, retail and tourism operations," Ford says.
During the Covid crisis, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (it officially became Auckland Unlimited on December 1 following the merger with Regional Facilities Auckland) secured $20 million worth of business support packages through the Regional Business Partner Network — seven times the normal amount.
Ateed connected with 8000 small and medium-sized businesses, and Ford says all of them found the support useful. "For them, it was being able to talk with someone and to quickly get strategic financial advice. For many Auckland businesses it was lifesaving."
Auckland Unlimited is now deeply involved in Project Ikuna (Pacific Skills Shift), after securing $8 million over four years from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to upskill Pacific workers in low-skilled and precarious jobs.
A pilot programme is being completed at Sanford and Brinks Chicken and staff have been building their digital, personal development and literacy skills during work time.
Auckland Unlimited will now be appointing contract providers to manage the training programme over the next four years.
"These are tangible programmes alongside the need to bring people together and plan for Auckland's economic recovery," Ford says. "Covid has accentuated the role of an economic development agency — to convene, facilitate and be a trusted partner and deliverer for (local and central) government.
"The next summit will continue the themes started at the first, and the power of bringing people together will result in an impact programme that works for the region," she says.
"We had a tech visioning workshop and one of the participants went on LinkedIn about it.
Suddenly, new people were wanting to participate and be involved with the tech sector. That's what the power brings."