Regional approaches gather speed

Creating a Waikato-wide regional economic development agency, and a fresh approach to sharing the load on building new facilities, have just been endorsed by the Waikato Mayoral Forum.

Once finalised, these measures will provide an even more solid foundation to make significant progress on economic, social, cultural and environmental fronts.

The new Waikato Regional Development Agency – outlined by Waikato Means Business under chair Dallas Fisher – is due to become operational mid-2018.

To be based at the Innovation Park in Hamilton – with a proposed budget of $2 million – the agency will also have service centres around the Waikato to ensure it is delivering value to businesses across the region and is not just big city focused.

Such an agency – in line with the direction set by the Waikato Plan - will help us better access a share of the Government’s $60 million-plus regional growth programme funding, and attract national and international investment.
Due in part to a lack of co-ordinated effort, the Waikato is underinvesting in economic development. We’re currently the only region without such a co-ordinated development agency.

We’re not getting a fair share of that Government regional growth funding and not doing enough to attract investment. We’re also not doing enough to develop skills and work readiness of our people and ensure they are in education, employment or training.

So the agency, as proposed, will bring the Waikato Story to life and be a much needed ‘front door’ for local Waikato businesses to get development help, and for investors from outside the region to find their feet here to mutual advantage. And it’s definitely designed to be a “doing it” entity.

Waikato Means Business may have been initiated by councils but is now very much led and driven by business. So it’s great to see the forum unanimously swinging in behind the significant effort put in by Dallas and his team to get things cracking.

A proposed funding model for the agency will see councils, business and other sources all contribute its budget.

There’s also unanimous forum support for a new community facilities funding framework which outlines how councils will work together to identify how regional and sub-regional facilities should be collectively and equitably funded.

Just as importantly, it helps local government work with others to take a collaborative, strategic approach to investing in community sports, leisure, cultural and arts facilities.

It is neither efficient nor effective for each council, school, and community group to develop and maintain their own sports, leisure, arts and cultural assets.

The framework is an opportunity for a paradigm shift in the way that we plan for and fund community facilities so that communities benefit from these investments now and into the future, and we avoid unnecessary duplication of resources.

It will now be up to all councils to consider formally whether they accept the forum’s recommendations.

But I’m confident the steps we’re suggesting are important milestones on the journey to greater regional prosperity.

• Alan Livingston chairs the mayoral forum and the regional council. The views are his own.

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