Te Waka launched at ‘powerful’ summit


“We’ve had the hui, now let’s have the do-ey.”

That’s the call from Dallas Fisher after a high-powered summit that brought together 250 Waikato business leaders and politicians to help shape the future economic development of the region.

Te Waka, the new name for Waikato’s regional economic development agency, was launched at the event, held on the banks of Lake Karapiro at the Sir Don Rowlands Centre recently.

Dallas Fisher, chair of Te Waka’s establishment board, said after the summit that it had been a “powerful” two days, aimed at helping the well-being of Waikato communities.

“There was real horsepower in this room. It’s been phenomenal. The two-day commitment from all the people is significant and they stuck at it. They were excited about it, committed to it.”

The conference opening address was by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, and attendees included representatives from all five iwi the region touches, as well as major Waikato businesses and industries.

It was a first for Waikato, which is one of the last regions in New Zealand to establish a regional economic development agency.

“This has never happened before. This is original territory bringing everyone from the region together across all these industry groups, central government, local government. It’s never happened in the area of economic development,” said Dallas.

“We’ve called for unity, the focus of that call is kotahitanga. We’ve called for a collective approach. No one group can do this by themselves.”

The two days saw the development of some overarching themes, including tourism, Waikato as a food bowl and utilising the Waikato River sustainably. It also established a set of priorities while getting down to what Dallas called the “nitty gritty”.

“We’ve got the prioritised list and we’ve come up with 20 major ideas for projects.”

The next step is to cluster those ideas under the themes and present the long-term strategy to central government in October.

Dallas said one of the jobs of Te Waka is to help join the dots between national and regional strategies and look at how to accelerate business development.

He gave the example of rail. “There’s a national strategy around rail, which absolutely connects to the food processing strategy, the tourism strategy – so it’s [about]our regional strategies connecting to the national strategies.”

In the meantime, Te Waka is also doing its bit to help with applications for the Provincial Growth Fund, with several in the pipeline.

“Minister Jones called himself a retail politician at the event,” said Fisher. “Well, we’re a buyer of the Provincial Growth Fund.”

Also on the immediate agenda is the appointment of a chief executive. The agency, based at Innovation Park, currently has six staff. There will be further recruitment, while a new board to replace the establishment board should be formed within six months.

Dallas said there have been some predecessor organisations, and part of the impetus for the agency came from Waikato Means Business, an organisation which he chairs.

“It needed to evolve and connect with the business world much more strongly, and in setting up Te Waka that’s what we’ve done. a true partnership. I think this is vitally important. We are behind because we haven’t worked together enough as a region,” he said.

“We’re late to the game and we’ve got to catch up, but I look at us like being Melbourne Cup, Kiwi coming down the outside. That’s Waikato.

“The process has delivered quality outcomes but now, let’s make some things happen.”

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