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The ability of Dunedin to absorb job losses has always been an integral part of the city’s character.
During the past 20 years, thousands of people have lost their jobs as meat works closed, head offices closed and shifted north, and public services were run down in favour of northern centres.
In each case, including the massive losses in the late 1980s when Waitaki International closed its Burnside plant, redundant workers eventually found new jobs. The jobs were not always in the same industry but they were jobs, nevertheless.
The former Department of Labour, in Dunedin, had a hard-working team which went the extra distance to help people find work.
Trade unions in the city were strong because of compulsory unionism. Their large teams of organisers were intimately involved in ensuring redundant workers received their correct entitlements.
Social welfare staff, all unionised, also made a real effort to set up shop where workers were being made redundant — ensuring soon after the news was announced, workers were receiving help.
The wave went in a 20-year cycle. In 1989 many workers were facing a change of circumstances as industries closed their doors. Twenty years later, more closures were announced.
One of the major faults of city leaders over the years was working on trying to attract the next big industry to Dunedin. The thinking was then a wood processing factory, for instance, could fill the void left by closures of other industries.
The failed Fortex meat processing plant, on the Taieri, was a case in point. Bus trips were taken to Ashburton to view the operations of the Fortex plant. Money was poured into development of the Taieri plant, before it, too, fell over because it paid too much for its stock.
The news the company had made a $45 million loss was well received by other meat companies in the region, because they knew they could start paying less for their lambs.
Now, Dunedin thrives on high technology and niche industries. Tourism is now an integral part of the city.
The arrival of the first cruise ship into Port Chalmers was a magnificent event. Now, cruise ships are a common sight.Direct flights from Australia to Queenstown have changed the face of tourism in Central Otago. Bus travel is still popular, but more tourists are using camper vans and their own itinerary.
Dunedin had a cluster of rural-based companies operating in the city 20 years ago. They included Mainland Products, PPCS, Tasman Agriculture, Mainland Poultry, New Zealand Deer Farms, Reid Farms and CRT.
Scott Technology, at one stage part of Donaghys Industries, remains in the city, providing high-technology equipment around the world.
Ian Taylor has grown the technology base of the city through his ARL Ltd, and formerly Taylormade, just as the late Howard Paterson grew the biotechnology industry.
The untimely death of Mr Paterson meant the future of Dunedin’s biotechnology industry went unfulfilled. However, technology and niche manufacturing remain a cornerstone.
The first stories about the Macraes gold mine started about 30 years ago. Now, under the ownership of Oceana Gold, the mine continues to employ hundreds of workers and export gold from East Otago.
One of my first by-lined stories in the Otago Daily Times was a reassurance from Cadbury Confectionery it was staying in the city, despite constant rumours of its demise. Thirty years later, the chocolate-maker finally closed its doors.