When he was only a Year 7 pupil, the curious and budding economist recorded the stock-market activity each night. Christine Allen chats with Brad Olsen, of Whangarei, now one of the Infometrics economists based in Wellington.

As a Year 7 pupil at Kamo Intermediate School, Brad Olsen tried to record what the stock market and fuel prices were doing each night in the news.

"It really went to the forefront of what I wanted to do at high school, and especially when I was part of the Reserve Bank's Monetary Policy Challenge (at the time the WBHS team was the first in Northland to qualify for the regional finals)," he said.

The economist said his interest was encouraged by his high school economics teacher, Richard Blogg.

Now with Infometrics, one of New Zealand's leading economic consultancies, his role involves providing straightforward analysis of the regions and the decisions of everyday New Zealanders.

Advertisement

He said his average day includes researching latest developments across different sectors of the economy, analysing the numbers to help clients and the media understand the drivers behind New Zealand's most pressing topics, or writing reports to help clients understand what's likely to happen in their area.

Olsen bagged the role of data analyst at Infometrics in 2015, having been named one of three Kelliher Economics Foundation scholars at the end of high school at Whangārei Boys' High School.

"I've also has a lot of exposure to local government, both as chair of the Whangārei District Council Youth Advisory Group and now as chair of the Wellington City Youth Council."

Loving his role, Olsen said he keeps his finger on the pulse of issues from government policy and environmental changes to business investment decisions.

"More than that, you get to talk to some incredible people about the things they are passionate about and break down complex issues to find the critical issue or option to next consider.

"That's not always the simplest thing. Often organisations are making large investments and decisions affecting entire districts around New Zealand based on your advice.

"At the same time, in this role people are quick to challenge your views and your expectations, so it's important to keep up to date on the various issues affecting New Zealand and be ready to respond when someone asks the tricky questions."

Northland's economy
Olsen said his work with Infometrics has made him even more aware of the importance of local businesses in Whangārei and across Northland to the success of the area.

"These guys are the lifeblood of the economy, providing jobs and investing in locals, and it's critical to understand what they're currently doing, and where they're heading next.

"Northland had some incredible potential, and the prospects for the future are bright. But equally, Northland also has its fair share of issues to overcome.

"No one is sitting around in Northland waiting for something to happen – they're getting up, putting in the hours, and working for a better tomorrow – often in spite of any challenges they face."

He said Northland faced some big challenges such as high unemployment, the potential for much higher wages, and increasingly a lack of direct, fast, and reliable connections to Auckland as New Zealand's largest city, as well as a clutch of social problems holding locals back from reaching their full potential, such as poor health outcomes, methamphetamine use, suicide, and low educational attainment.

"Both our direct economic issues and social challenges are holding the economy back, and, in turn, holding Northlanders back from growth and better household outcomes."

He said the region would need to focus on prevention rather than reaction and, while government assistance was a positive, some communities and businesses just needed the space to "get on with their work".

"Regulations can quickly become like quicksand if they don't make sense and just add paperwork for the sake of it."

Adding value to goods and services, notably milk and wood products, was a must, as well as making the most of digital and tourism opportunities.

Olsen was now in his last year of his double degree – a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts – majoring in economics, public policy, international relations and political science.

He said he would continue to venture into economics but would like to focus on politics in the future and hoped to make a return to Northland in the future.