It's good to have a goal, forum told

Increasing wages by $10,000 a year and creating an extra 10,000 jobs in Dunedin in the next 10 years might be a lofty ambition, the experts agree, but at least it is a goal, and that is a good thing to have.

An economics professor, the head of a social agency, the owner of a successful medium-sized local business, a student, and the head of an independent New Zealand public policy think-tank formed a panel who last night addressed about 70 people at an open public forum at the Dunedin Public Library, which focused on a draft economic development strategy for the city.

The dean of Otago University's School of Business, Prof George Benwell, said he took one look at that particular goal of the draft strategy and instantly thought "tell them they're dreaming", but then decided "unless we take control of our own destiny, we're just not going to go anywhere".

"Why don't we aspire to zero poverty, zero crime, zero unemployment, zero pollution, the best IT infrastructure in the country. Why don't we double the length of the runway?"

If the city wanted to do those things it needed some extra income, he said.

"One way would be to establish the oil industry offshore here."

To achieve economic development some of other plans the city was working on, for example, a culture strategy needed to take priority, as changing the culture of the city probably had to proceed improving its economy.

One of his other reservations about the draft so far, and one of fellow speaker NZ Initiative executive director Dr Oliver Hartwich's, was that improving the economy needed to be driven by the whole city, and not just the Dunedin City Council.

"I think the words DCC should be taken out of the whole thing."

Dr Hartwich said he was also concerned that all the actions so far identified in the draft document were driven by the council and not other organisations such as Otago University, but he particularly liked the vision that Dunedin would be one of the world's great small cities.

Small cities could be home to world-leading industry, but often that took tax incentives to grow business and it would be a great challenge to reform local government finances to make that happen.

As Prof Benwell warned that Dunedin should not look to the tertiary sector for economic growth, because reality was that student growth was going to plateau, the managing director of Select Recruitment, Karen Bardwell, said Dunedin needed to focus on growing the engineering and manufacturing sector because that was where the most jobs were in the city.

Presbyterian support chief executive Gillian Bremner said the draft assumed some more fundamental things were already in place, and missed some of the things that made economies work.

"It is the fuel of self-belief that the city will need as a foundation going forward for economic success."

Economic development relied on other areas being developed also, such as energy and social well-being, she said.

The public can make submissions on Dunedin's draft economic development strategy close until June 15.


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