"Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead". So said the late, great Nelson Mandela, former South African President and inspirational figure to millions the world over.
Madiba, as he was affectionately
known, regularly reached milestones throughout his life that most of us could never contemplate. However, while we cannot all be global influencers, we still have significant moments of our own, moments that change the course of our personal lives, our businesses or even our economies.
• Northland quarry supplying 60,000 tonnes of boulders to Napier Port for wharf rebuild
• Russell restaurant tops the lot
• Work progressing on three Northland state highway roundabouts
Milestones are, in fact, the stuff of everyday life, the touchstones that keep projects on track and underline our forward momentum towards our goals.
Today, I am reflecting on a milestone of my own as exactly one year ago today – October 14, 2019 – I was welcomed to Northland Inc with a pōwhiri, a special event that signalled a homecoming for me, both personally as a son of the North and professionally as I made a commitment to work closely with Tai Tokerau's communities to improve our social and economic conditions.
On this day last year, I knew that challenges lay ahead; indeed, I had long ago made my own list of milestones, for both our organisation at Northland Inc and our region as a whole.
What I could not have known, of course, was the extent of the challenges we would all face as 2020 threw up a series of unprecedented events that continue to test and reshape our world.
This time last year, Northland's business community, across a range of sectors, could have expected to reach an impressive list of project management milestones, all aimed at sustained and sustainable growth. For some of them today, it is a milestone just to have their doors open, to still be trading, still adapting.
It is equally heartening, too, to see the number of new businesses in our region starting up right now, undeterred and undiminished by the impact of Covid and these uncertain economic times; a sure sign, if ever there was one, of the unstoppable can-do attitude of our regional business community, and the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit for which we are rightly associated.
Further confirmation of this attitude was supplied by the latest Westpac McDermott Miller regional economic confidence survey, which last week revealed a marked increase in business confidence in Northland, with the region jumping 17 points over the September quarter.
Only Nelson and Canterbury demonstrated a superior rise in confidence.
Indeed, Sophie Wiltshier, head of our team of growth advisers at Northland Inc and an innovation specialist, reports that, through the Regional Business Partner Network, we have now reached another milestone: the facilitation of support for more than 1000 Tai Tokerau businesses – the equivalent, she estimates, of over five years' worth of work in six months.
Of course, we recognise we are in a privileged position to deliver central government's response to Covid-19 for small-to-medium-sized businesses, and this has allowed us to get to know the real issues and challenges that the business community faces, while also hearing first-hand how Northland has adapted to the crisis.
Significantly, in utilising technology in ways that might previously have been neglected, our Tai Tokerau businesses are now better prepared to traverse future, unpredictable global events with a higher degree of confidence.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Covid has helped upskill a generation of business owners who would not previously have had the same impetus to adapt to new technology, or to ways of problem solving or seeking expert advice.
This has contributed in no small part to the overall sense of business confidence in Northland and proved that, when faced with adversity, we can rise up against issues and create novel solutions, while keeping our team and whānau together wherever possible.
As for the road ahead, there will inevitably be more twists and turns to come, but the milestones we have already achieved on this uncertain journey are proof that the Tai Tokerau business community is on the right track and more than capable of using innovative, inventive ways to adapt and evolve.
• Murray Reade is chief executive officer at Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency.