You can just see it coming, the scramble for dollars from the new Provincial Growth Fund.

It was only launched last month. The $1 billion a year fund is part of the coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First. So far money has been committed to forestry initiatives, tourism ventures and rail and roading projects. It's the talk of the regions. Local councils throughout New Zealand along with their partners are preparing fund applications now ready to submit. The Minister of Regional Economic Development Shane Jones will get swamped. I suspect every year the fund will be oversubscribed.

Most of provincial New Zealand fell into decline over the past 20 years. Zombie towns was a description often used to describe their future. Cruel but not surprising as there had been very little investment by the government. And it's hard to crawl your way back if you reach the tipping point. This fund is just what the provinces have been waiting for. But a turnaround in provincial prosperity started to happen before the last government left office, in spite of the provinces receiving scant attention.

With the cost of living in our major cities starting to soar families looked at the provinces with renewed interest. It was only a matter of time before many made the choice to move. Work to live yes, not live to work. These families are reporting they should have made the move years ago. Higher incomes found in the cities are all well and good but are offset by the high cost of living. There is little over at the end of the month for a family to enjoy.


Now you can feel change is in the air when travelling throughout provincial New Zealand. The revitalisation that is happening. It's palpable. A Provincial Growth Fund that invests in regional infrastructure, services and business will allow regions to start attracting private sector investments, and create jobs on their own. Long overdue.

But I was surprised this week when attending an economic development workshop to see results of a survey, taken at a previous workshop, rank "innovation" near the bottom of a long list of economic drivers and conditions. In my book it is innovation that drives economic development and growth.

Innovation is all about making new things. Having the ability to apply creative solutions to enhance people's lives. We invent and make new things, or make the old ones in a new way.

And innovation is nothing new. We have seen old manufacturing plants close and new plants open. Industries sometimes become obsolete. Old jobs die with new jobs created to take their place. The new jobs created come from innovation. While innovation leads to higher growth, higher growth can lead to greater investment in research and development, which will likely lead to more innovation.

The workshop was attempting to identify what would stimulate and grow economic development. How to make it happen and under what conditions. Are there practical steps local government along with other interested parties can take to foster a growing economy for the future? Yes there is and I think it's a regional approach that's required. In the past we were very city and district centric, we couldn't see the woods for the trees. Nothing wrong with being parochial but not at the expense of the big picture and when it hinders progress.

If we believe that innovation is the true engine of economic prosperity then our greatest strength will be our ability to embrace change. And for the Bay of Plenty to continue to grow as a vital province this means flexibility will be our most valuable asset. We have to sustain a community of innovators. Those open to new ideas and different perspectives. In research, development and technology transfer. Their efforts, along with entrepreneurs, public private investors and the not for profit sector, who play a major role in information and data gathering, will nurture the desired growth and innovation.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua district councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness.