I wrote my book Growing Apart to kickstart a conversation on the challenges facing New Zealand's regions. Because without urgent action and fresh thinking, the inequalities across our regions will widen and become entrenched.

Decline for affected regions is not inevitable - but it will be, without substantial change.

Of course, widening gaps between our regions is not new. The issue has been simmering for many decades in New Zealand, and the same challenge affects other countries such as the United States' "rust belt" or the United Kingdom's "north v south" divide.

What is new is that the big forces behind these gaps are accelerating and are set to have a disproportionate impact on provincial New Zealand.


My book describes how we got here and the four big forces we face:

1. Technological change is accelerating, increasing the rate at which industries and occupations are rendered obsolete.

2. Urbanisation is a longstanding trend but new industries and jobs are increasingly urban, attracting - rather than forcing - people to move to cities.

3. Globalisation is creating opportunities to trade but also creating competition for moving low- and medium-skilled jobs offshore.

4. Ageing is already faster in provinces and compounds when young people vote with their feet and move to major centres, meaning fewer provincial workers and entrepreneurs.

New Zealand does have provincial economies that are, today, doing well on many measures - Taranaki is boosted by oil and gas, Southland by dairy, Tauranga by its port. But every region is unique and this means the economic strategy and goals for each has to be distinct and finely tuned.

However, the conversation in New Zealand politics, policy and media remains overwhelmingly national in focus, and weighted toward Auckland and Wellington. Yet not every place, of course, needs nor wants to be like Auckland.

Whanganui must identify a shared vision of long-term success. This is not a rebranding exercise but rather the process of identifying core opportunities for sustained growth and development.

Such opportunities might include:

The iwi settlements will inject significant sums of money into the region, which could be invested to improve the outlook for the region.

The region's natural and mineral resources, if extracted with respect to the environment, could provide substantial growth.

Soaring demand for products like manuka honey and fresh fruit and vegetables could play into Whanganui's micro-climate.

The river, sea and weather make it a great destination for fishing and tourism.

Two growing centres close by (Palmerston North and New Plymouth) should be leveraged, not seen as competition. Offer what they don't complement each other's economies.

When there is a shared vision in place, it needs leadership to drive it and community buy-in for it to last the distance.

Success is not easy. Help may not come from others - it has to be led by your community.

Growing Apart: Regional Prosperity in New Zealand by Shamubeel Eaqub was published in July 2014 by Bridget Williams Books (www.bwb.co.nz).