I've been around this space for a while now; starting to count in decades. I've looked at theories, policies and practises, taught it, researched it, done it. Māori, the private sector – industries, sectors, clusters, small, medium and large companies, start-ups and mature businesses, universities and research organisations, philanthropic organisations and NGOs, government in all its guises and politicians of all stripes.
It is at times frustrating, but also a privilege to work with people across all walks of life, learning from them as I go.
There are many views of what economic development is, unfortunately not always informed ones. Generally, though, people are trying to do right by their communities.
Where it comes unstuck is when people only work in their own best interests, personal or organisational. Where it works best is when a higher goal catalyses people and organisations to work together.
Economic Development Agencies (EDAs) must work as honest brokers in this critical catalysing, collaborating and coalescing space.
Both left-leaning and right-leaning governments talk about, and make policy about, economic development but they tend to come at it from different ideological bases.
The new government is a definite shift to the left; the left wants to tame the market, guard against negative externalities like inequality and spread incomes more evenly across society.
They come from a history of sticking up for the workers and wanting change.
The right wants to reward individual enterprise, endeavour and merit and not interfere in the market other than to provide a legal framework for it to operate in the belief that equality of opportunity is more important than forcing equality of outcome.
The left wants more government involvement, the right wants less. Where the right goes wrong is in believing in the primacy of the market that given the freedom to operate will deliver the prosperity we need to improve all our lives.
Where the left goes wrong is in believing that business is only in it to provide returns to its shareholders and business people are one tracked on profit.
Who's right or wrong?
The fact is, they both kind of are. There are unhelpful extremes at either end of the political spectrum.
What is really interesting is when people and organisations from different ends of the political spectrum or from different perspectives find common ground and work together.
This is quite often the job of an economic development agency (EDA). It can be devilishly hard and extremely rewarding at the same time. It tells you that continually firing from different camps, with polemic arguments, gets you nowhere.
Yes, we may continue to have real differences but when it comes to development most people can agree on the ends but have wildly differing views on the means to get there.
There's really only one reason you do economic development; to improve peoples' lives!
An example of what I'm talking about is the Hawaiki cable project. Just over five years ago a Frenchman, Rémi Galasso, and his team came to Northland to see if there was an opportunity to raise investment for an international submarine cable running from Portland, Oregon to Sydney via Hawaii, Samoa and New Zealand.
He was first shown around by a group of local businessmen. Yes, looking to make some cash and leverage the opportunity if they could. But they also saw an opportunity for their community and got their economic development agency involved.
Along the way the Northland Regional Council, Whangarei District Council, Kaipara District Council, Patuharakeke, Te Uri o Hou, Ngati Whatua and Ngatiwai, central government agencies MBIE, Crown Fibre and NZTE, local businesses, developers, contractors and investors, and politicians from all parts of the political spectrum contributed to making it happen.
The Hawaiki Cable project has opened up significant opportunities for the development of the Northland economy but it will also have benefits for the environment, education, health and social wellbeing.
These groups all understood the opportunity for Northland. Along the way a Digital Enablement Group was set up to take advantage of the investment. Many players have played their part, much more to do.
Go Team Northland.
■ Dr David Wilson is the Chief Executive Officer of Northland's Economic Development Agency, Northland Inc, and Chair of Economic Development NZ.