It is interesting how times of challenge create swings in economic cycles, and in this current Covid-19 crisis, the frailties of globalisation have been exposed.
This current crisis provides us with an opportunity to reframe our view on what successful economic growth looks like and to build a stronger, more resilient local economy. It has brought the local back into view and highlighted how disconnected we have become from the businesses and the people around us.
As we swing back to a stronger focus on living and supporting our community, it now creates an opportunity for us to reframe the local economy and strengthen from within to develop new prosperity for our region.
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Sustained economic growth is a process of continual transformation, and crises hasten this change. Over the past few centuries, the economic progress the world has supported would not have been possible without the sometimes-catastrophic challenges we have endured.
In economic terms, most recently, we as a national and regional economy have been focused on what is termed "exogenous growth." That is, we focus on things outside our local environment and try to attract them to us, or sell things to them, to support growth.
Sometimes known as top down or centralised approaches, this does not appear to have been a successful strategy for Tai Tokerau.
So, in swinging away from relying on the extractive economy, corporate value chains and low value roles, we have an opportunity to build strength from within, termed as "endogenous growth". The approach is bottom up, decentralised and localised; and relies on policies and practice that embrace openness, competition, change and innovation.
This approach is embodied in the theory of "Economic Gardening". It is an entrepreneurial approach to economic development that seeks to grow the local economy from within.
This targeted business assistance approach focuses on growth businesses already operating in our community, and it supports these businesses to grow stronger by providing the customised information and relationships they need to address strategic issues.
Its premise is that local entrepreneurs create the companies that bring new wealth and economic growth to a region in the form of jobs, increased revenues, and a vibrant local
business sector. Economic gardening seeks to focus on growing and nurturing local businesses rather than hunting outside the region.
Look at any media and you will see this and the rallying war cry – shop local! These are strong emotive messages that have a strong resonance with our community. Focusing on delivering this support and making these changes sticky, so that we can all benefit and have inclusive growth, is going to take more than just words, though. It is going to require providing critical information needed by businesses to survive and thrive.
It suggests we need to focus on developing and cultivating arrangements beyond basic physical infrastructure that includes quality of life, a culture that embraces growth, change, and access to intellectual resources, including qualified and talented employees.
It needs us to develop connections between businesses and the people and organisations that can help take them to the next level — business associations, universities, roundtable groups, service providers, and more.
So, let's focus our attention inwards, towards existing small businesses, and get to know our local producers. It's going to take a co-ordinated and consistent approach to support a stronger regional economy, but at the heart of it, it means you need to get to know your local producers and support them as we rebuild local resilience through nurturing stronger personal connections.
* Joseph Stuart is an Accredited Economic Developer, Learning facilitator for Economic Development New Zealand, and General Manager of Business Innovation and Growth at Northland Inc.