Māori business owners in Hawke's Bay say they need more government support to "do what they're good at" in construction and tourism.
That was the message given to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Grant Robertson when he met the Hawke's Bay Māori Business Hub members in Napier yesterday.
Organised with help from Tania Eden of Te Taiwhenua O Te Whanganui A Orotu, the network was born out of frustration about a lack of support for Māori businesses during the Covid-19 lockdown last year.
It now boasts 62 members, many of whom were present at yesterday's meeting where they expressed their hopes to Robertson, who was joined by local MPs Stuart Nash and Meka Whaitiri.
One of the biggest issues facing many businesses, especially those in the construction industry, was a lack of skilled labour, chief executive of the Heretaunga Tamatea Settlement Trust Liz Munroe said.
"We are big on housing and working to roll out major housing developments," she said, adding that capacity was an issue.
Robertson acknowledged skilled staff shortages were a big issue for business owners but said the government's priority was keeping New Zealanders safe, which meant border restrictions remained in place.
He said there would always be competition for skilled labour from overseas, but the "guaranteed pipeline of work" was the incentive to keep staff, particularly tradies, in the country.
While there were challenges, the Hawke's Bay economy was thriving, he said.
"Who wouldn't want to live in Hawke's Bay on a beautiful day like today?"
Robertson pointed to the subsidisation of apprenticeship programmes as one way the government was trying to increase the labour force.
Alongside Nash, he was also working to direct government procurement tenders towards more Māori businesses, as well as emphasising using local companies for local projects
"We want to make sure Māori businesses are getting a good go of it."
Ronnie Rochel, of Te Aratika - which is working with young Māori men, said procurement opportunities were important for "for Māori by Māori" projects.
She wanted more "confidence and continuity" from the government, to enable them to "create a vision" for the rangatahi (youth) they were working with.
Robertson responded that he could "can see within two minutes of meeting these boys you are making a difference".
Nash said he was working to empower local companies to apply for procurement opportunities.
One of the main barriers preventing local businesses from applying was a lack of compliance relating to HR, health and safety and financial reporting, Renata Hakiwai of HTK Group told the ministers.
The business management consultancy group works with about 340 Māori businesses, about 89 per cent of which were non-compliant in some way, he said.
"It's those simple elements of business which can collapse a business.
"Most small businesses are mum and dad businesses. They just want to do their profession, especially if they are a tradie."
Tui Smith, the owner of Everlast Roofing Ltd, is one such business owner.
He said there was a lot of competition from bigger organisations, and wanted to see locals prioritised in development projects.
Smith also wanted a streamlined way to find out about what services and support were already available to them, to enable them to grow their business.
Others like tā moko (tattoo) artist Te Kanawa Ngarotata, asked the cabinet ministers to act as a referee for a job he was applying for.
He said his business had suffered during Covid-19 being one which involved close contact, and that the arts were especially important for mental health.