Monday, 9th December, 2013

Recently appointed to chair the Auckland Council’s Business Advisory Panel, Michael Barnett sees a lot of work ahead to increase Auckland’s economic growth...

Auckland’s economic future is ours for the making – right now.

I am delighted to be appointed to head up Auckland Council’s Business Advisory Panel, and I welcome the Mayor’s invitation to the business community to put on the table the issues we believe require urgent action.

Certainly the business community supports initiatives aimed at achieving strong economic growth, and which create permanent, worthwhile jobs. What is needed is a panel which is lean, ready to do some hard work and able to offer realistic solutions to tough issues. I intend bringing together a core group on each big issue of concern to business so that the extent of the problem can be measured and a prescription for its solution can be designed for taking to Council for action.

It is no secret that if Auckland is to grow at a rate needed to deliver a high quality of life for all Aucklanders, action is required to build a competitive and productive economy that enables more of our businesses to trade successfully with the rest of the world. This in turn requires action to address skill shortages and reduce our high level of youth unemployment.

Easy to say, less easy to do. Auckland has a clear Economic Development Strategy for the next 10 years. But that was just the first step and we have got to that point several times in the past. A critical next step is to determine the big issues standing between us and the outcomes expressed in the strategy, and decide exactly what needs to be done to solve them. Through the partnership approach offered by the Council we have a rare opportunity of getting some momentum to take a fresh approach to tackle long-standing problems.

Youth unemployment is one such issue the size of which is already known. The average youth unemployment rate in the OECD is 16%, in Auckland it’s around 22% and in Auckland’s Pacific and Maori communities more than 30%. That’s unacceptable for a city whose economic development strategy has the objective of delivering improved opportunity and prosperity to all Aucklanders.

Our challenge is to find a way to address the inter-related cluster of issues impacting on employability in Auckland and tackle the overall problem together and as a whole. Multitudes of separate and small scale initiatives all working on their own won’t get us there. The problem won’t be solved solely from Wellington either.

A second issue is to find a way for Auckland businesses to add a much stronger export focus to our economy. This includes the businesses already in Auckland, the ones our kids have yet to create and the ones that the rest of the world want to set up here in Auckland.

Accepting that China is now New Zealand’s biggest trading partner, there is an enormous opportunity for Auckland to set some targets to grow business relationships through its sister cities in China (Guangzhou, Ningbo, Qingdao) and elsewhere in Asia – five in Japan, two in Korea and one in Taiwan, and also a number of Pacific Island countries. The Mayor has laid the foundations of these relationships over the past 3 years, now we need to see them bear some real fruit.

Reinforcing the opportunity to add an export focus to Auckland’s economy is the Free Trade Agreements that government has established with a number of Asia and Pacific Rim countries, and which business could take greater advantage of. As a moderate sized city economy, we also need to test the opportunities that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) might offer Auckland.

Looking at the infrastructure platform that Auckland business will need if it is to help grow a vibrant, prosperous and competitive city, it is critical that we attract the investment needed to enable the efficient and convenient movement of both people and goods through early completion of the central rail and east-west links. This must include both investment from within Auckland and New Zealand – for example the NZ Super fund and iwi investments, and also international investors.

Another topic the Panel will undoubtedly want to focus on is how to enable Auckland to be the master of its own destiny. The city needs to make its own decisions about how to achieve the infrastructure and business investment we need to get our economy and job creation growing to the level required to ensure the higher wages and salaries so more Aucklanders can afford to live well in New Zealand’s only city of global scale.

And no doubt, business leaders will want the Panel to keep an eye on the costs and ease of doing business with council, and to measure the progress council and government makes to address our housing, business land and urban planning issues.

At this stage I intend bringing together panel members on an issue-by-issue basis of preparedness of wanting to act now.

A clear path lies ahead, one that involves us sizing up how brave we want to be in taking Auckland forward, and delivering positive and measurable results on selected fronts.

We have the plans, and have done the talk and most of the thinking. We now agree we must work together to achieve our shared goal of competing on a world stage as a global city in a class of its own. Accordingly, the focus must shift to new ways of doing.

Yes, 2014 is shaping up as an exciting year for Auckland – and New Zealand!

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For more information contact Michael Barnett, mobile: 0275 631 150.
Michael Barnett, Chief Executive, Auckland Chamber of Commerce.