"Levin is open for business." That's the message the rest of the world needs to get about Levin and Horowhenua, according to newly elected Levin Ward councillor Sam Jennings (37).
"We are a destination, not a drive-through town," he said. "There is huge potential here but we need to figure out what our point of difference is. If we choose to be known as the food basket then we must celebrate that," he said.
He doesn't mind what it is, as long as there is at least one point of difference with the rest of New Zealand.
He said he expects to need six to 12 months to learn the ropes of council, but he is already full of ideas and anticipation.
"We have a really good team around the council table. There is a great mix of skills and backgrounds among the councillors.
"We should be able to convince a few government departments to relocate here, though transport is an issue right now. Not just public transport, but also roading. Our teenagers cannot get to Kāpiti or Palmerston North or Wellington for further study due to transport issues. And then there is the expressway...."
For Jennings, who lived in Manakau for almost a decade, O2NL (the expressway) is a big issue. "As a council we must have the ability to keep NZTA to its time plan and in order to get the best deal for us as a community we must have ongoing input into the plans."
He's thinking about the placing of any interchanges, creating space enough near the corridor for future services as well as bike and walk tracks.
He's also interested in the acquisition and disposal of council property.
"We must look after our property portfolio and that includes any land near the expressway corridor. The only property I own is my own home. I have no other interest in property.
"I'm interested in helping market our events to a much wider audience."
Jennings is a lawyer with a degree from Victoria University. He hails from Wellington and has spent time growing up in Johnsonville and Kāpiti. His first lawyer job was for the New Zealand Police.
"I loved the Police."
After that he worked for the Civil Aviation Authority and three years ago started his own consultancy firm, where he counsels Pacific Island nations on their legal and policy frameworks and does some in-house legal work too.
"I have always been interested in politics," he said. He ran for the Ōtaki seat as an independent in 2017.
"Recently I realised that local government has a much bigger impact on our lives than Wellington."
So when he moved to Levin earlier this year he decided to abandon his aspirations to be an MP and run for council instead.
While in Manakau he and his wife Te Aroha ran a wedding venue, but they found that a growing family made that job really tough. They have three boys now, their youngest was born the day after the election.
"We moved to Manakau 10 years ago from Wellington, from a 40sq m apartment to 4400sq m lifestyle block. That was a big change." They love living in Horowhenua and are doing their bit to make it a better place for everyone.
Having done the rounds through the district during the lead-up to the election Jennings said he believed that there is an enormous appetite among voters for engagement with council, something he feels councils needs to respond to.