Ambitious start for new agency

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Waikato’s new economic development agency is making an ambitious start as it organises a regional summit to prioritise key initiatives for the region.

The Waikato Regional Economic Development Agency (Waikato REDA) came into existence on July 1; it’s a limited liability company, owned by the Waikato Regional Economic Development Trust and funded by a mixture of local authorities and businesses.

Waikato REDA has a current establishment board and will call for expressions of interest in a skills-based, permanent board before the end of the year.

Waikato businessman Dallas Fisher chairs the Waikato REDA establishment board and says the agency aims to become a front door for the region. That applies to “Wellington” and investors keen to understand and talk to Waikato, and to local businesses and organisations wanting to help tell the region’s story.

“This is an important time for Waikato – we need to take a strategic approach to getting us up to that next level. We do relatively well, but let’s face it, we’ve suffered from a low profile and subsequent under-funding.”

Waikato REDA’s first activity is an invitation-only economic development summit at the end of August.

“We’ll have 250 key people in the room, helping us determine the major priorities and initiatives for the new organisation.”

At the end of the summit, Waikato REDA will have a list of 12-14 economic development initiatives that will have the greatest impact on Waikato and its people, and the agency will work with government and funders to make those happen.

“If people are asked to name the top five economic initiatives in Waikato at the moment they struggle,” he said.

“In terms of tourism, if you take out Hobbiton from Waikato we are a bit lean.”

“If we can together identify what the top priorities are then we can put our hands up for that funding.  We need to be able to put these projects on the table, properly structured to do so.

“Our purpose is to arrive at the economic initiatives that will have the biggest impact. We want to accelerate growth in Waikato. We all need to be moving in the one direction and the Government needs to understand from the region what we want. We need to be picking some winners to get our share.”

Waikato REDA will be based at Innovation Park, at the Ruakura campus in Hamilton, with WIPLtd CEO, Stuart Gordon in the establishment CEO role. A recruitment drive is underway for a permanent CEO.

Mr Fisher says Waikato REDA is very deliberately being built on the work of the Business Growth Services team, under the Waikato Innovation Park umbrella. The team works closely with NZTE and Callaghan Innovation to help grow businesses across the region, and will now be part of Waikato REDA.

“We’re continuing with this model of being out in the towns as it’s a great model and we know it makes a difference to those businesses,” he says.

“So, while we’ll be talking to the region and all our supporters about the major economic development initiatives we’ll be undertaking on a larger scale, people can be confident that we’re continuing the on-the-ground help that’s so important.”

Dallas has previously chaired Waikato Means Business, the region’s 20-year economic development strategy, created with input from civic, business and Māori leaders. As well as taking strong direction from Waikato Means Business, Waikato REDA has taken a lead from the Waikato Plan, an overarching strategic plan developed by the region’s leaders that has targeted investment and economic development as two of its priorities.

The new agency acknowledges all the research and hard work that’s been done in the past few years, Dallas says, and is proud to be standing on the shoulders of some great people and organisations. “We’re ready to take on that challenge of bringing everything together and acting as the lead voice for the region.”

Stuart Gordon will hold the position of interim CEO until a permanent appointment is made. Applications for the new CEO close on July 18; the board hopes to announce a new CEO by September.

Dallas  says the new agency aims to become an obvious front door for the region, whether that’s for the government or investors keen to talk to Waikato, or for local businesses and organisations wanting to help tell the region’s story.

“A CEO has to embody that, as well as bringing a huge variety of skills to the role. We’re looking for someone who is going to add significant value to the relationships we need to have, and who can bring that strategic approach to economic development in the region.”

Waikato REDA’s three high-level objectives are lifting economic performance for the region; attracting and retaining talent and investment; providing one voice for regional economic development in Waikato.

“This is an important role for Waikato, and indeed New Zealand,” says Dallas. “If we can boost economic development in our region, the nation benefits as well. We see this leader as being able to significantly influence how well Waikato can do through economic development – but that’s not enough on its own; they’ll also have to be someone who engages extremely well with people.”

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Geoff Taylor

Waikato Business News editor Geoff Taylor. Email: geoff@wbn.co.nz