The Government's Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has been described as a "fantastic kaupapa" and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones "not bad for a Tipene old boy" when a $2 million investment, expected to create 150 jobs, was announced in Kawerau this morning.
At the foot of Kawerau's mountain Putauaki, Jones pledged the money that is to be used for the crucial first stage of the Kawerau Putauaki Industrial development aimed to create jobs, attract new businesses to the town and help boost the productivity potential of the wider Eastern Bay.
Also at the announcement were Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive and Toi EDA trustee Michael Barnett, Kawerau mayor Malcolm Campbell, Ōpōtiki mayor John Forbes, Western Bay mayor Garry Webber, Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder, Labour MP Kiritapu Allan and the executive and trustees of the Putauaki Trust.
The first stage of the development will see the construction of a right-hand turn bay off State Highway 34 and forms part of a multi-phase project to develop infrastructure around the development.
"Kawerau has always been an industry-based town and upgrading the transport and associated infrastructure will help attract new businesses and create the right environment for existing companies to invest and expand in the region," Jones said.
"The project is the result of more than a decade of planning work from local iwi, council and businesses, and is expected to create at least 150 jobs in Kawerau. It also has the potential to boost the economy of the entire Eastern Bay of Plenty region.
Jones told the crowd the money enabled the development to proceed with infrastructure on the site so it could fulfil long-terms plans to turn it into a hustling, bustling industrial hub.
"Not only is that a reflection of progressiveness from a hapu and a group of Māori landowners, but it's a sign of rejuvenation for a part of Aotearoa that since the days of Rogernomics, has been bypassed," Jones said.
"And that steeps to the moral purpose of why our Government set up the $3 billion fund. To work with other stakeholders, partners and investors in the regions and the Eastern Bay of Plenty is an area that is going to receive considerable attention and support.
"I'm conscious this kaupapa will require 10 times the $2 million I am announcing and I want you to wipe away any apprehensions you might have that Matua Jones is not going to stand beside you and see it through to the completion with you."
Putauaki Trust general manager John O'Brien thanked Jones for championing the region. "We can't thank you enough, not just for the putea [money] but also for this fantastic kaupapa that is the Provincial Growth Fund," O'Brien said.
"I'm sure you've been inundated with applications from up and down Aotearoa, and for a small Māori Trust like ourselves, to be successful in our first application, we're just truly humbled and pretty grateful.
"We'll be coming back to you in a few months' time, cap in hand, to bid for some more putea."
O'Brien said the development gave the young people hope for the future. "They will be able to get jobs in their own rohe and won't have to go away from home."
He thanked his management team and trustees for helping with the application. "I would also like to thank mayor Campbell for finally admitting Te Teko is the centre of the universe. Kawerau might be the capital but Texas is definitely the centre," he said amid laughter.
"And to you Shane Jones, you're not bad for a Tipene (St Stephen's School) old boy."
Campbell told Jones the Eastern Bay, and indeed wider Bay of Plenty, were unified and prepared to work together to get things done.
"We don't always agree but that's okay," Campbell said.
Campbell, who is in his fifth term as mayor, has long advocated Kawerau becoming an industrial hub. "It's taken a bloody long time," he told the Rotorua Daily Post. "But we're getting there."