In my last couple of articles, I've been on about inclusive growth and economic development as a team sport. A feature in the international literature on how you do this community economic development thing is the presence in your community of civic-minded community and business leaders willing to spend time, energy and money on signature projects.

Development agencies know how valuable these groups can be.

There are examples of this all over Northland, but I'll mention a couple so you get the drift.

Focus Paihia, a charitable trust, having been integral to Paihia's win of the Mitre 10 Community of the year as part of the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year awards in 2015 for a raft of local amenity projects, moved on to an ambitious signature project in the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park.

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Focus Paihia trustees Grant Harnish and Tiffany Holland watch as the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park entrance pou are lowered into place. Photo/File
Focus Paihia trustees Grant Harnish and Tiffany Holland watch as the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park entrance pou are lowered into place. Photo/File

This was a $2.1 million project over four years and four phases. A quick visit to the website reveals a raft of local businesses and agencies in support and an immense amount of donations in time, resources and money from trustees, businesses and volunteers alike.

A quick chat to experienced businessman Roger Dold, one of the trustees, gets an enthusiastic response; the WMBP is on to the fourth phase with 48km of tracks in place, two more kids' trails in line to be built, and heading towards 60-65km of tracks in total.

Their first full year of operation brought over 16,000 riders to town set to beat their year goal of 20,000 one year ahead of time in year two of operations. This has spurred four new bike rental/repair businesses and helped to spread visitation out to the shoulder seasons.

Obviously other businesses in town have also benefited from retail, restaurants, accommodation to other tourism businesses.

Roger says they are now closing in on completing the final phase which will see the completion of a hub that includes an office, bike rental/repair, the kids tracks, café and toilets.

At the heart of this is a bunch of key business people smelling a commercial opportunity that will work for, and benefit, the community with all profits going back to the community. Smart.

If you live in Whangarei, you will have found it difficult to avoid hearing about the Prosper Northland Trust and the $26m Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Maori Art Gallery (HAC).

The Colour Our City parade passes by the old Harbour Board building at the Town Basin in support of the Hundertwasser Art Centre project which is now being built at the site. Photo/File
The Colour Our City parade passes by the old Harbour Board building at the Town Basin in support of the Hundertwasser Art Centre project which is now being built at the site. Photo/File

You may have also noticed that work is under way, with local contractors, for a project set to bring immense economic benefit to the region.

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You will also have noticed other things are now in the offing, like a new four-star hotel proposal.

The Prosper Northland Team has a similar story to Focus Paihia with huge amounts of volunteer time, fundraising, reports, and trips to Wellington.

HAC probably had a harder time of it gaining public support, with years of council deliberations, referendums and plenty of public debate. But they stuck to their guns, through thick and thin. Awesome.

These types of projects really can be a stake in the ground for communities. Once under way they have a cumulative effect as other projects and developments spin off from them and they cause, in investment lingo, a virtuous cycle of investment.

The Waitangi Mountain Bike Park's founders wanted to create a place where families could exercise together. Photo/ File
The Waitangi Mountain Bike Park's founders wanted to create a place where families could exercise together. Photo/ File

There are so many other projects and organisations I could mention here; Hihiaua, Manea, the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, He Korowai Trust (Ricky Houghton, NZ local hero of the year 2018), Akau, Te Kotahitanga E Mahi Kaha Trust, Ngati Hine Health Trust, Parengarenga Inc and the list goes on.

All this reminds me of Margaret Mead's somewhat overused, but nonetheless appropriate saying: "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

■ Dr David Wilson is the chief executive officer of Northland's Economic Development Agency, Northland Inc, and chairman of Economic Development NZ.