Collaboration key to continuing Dunedin's growth

Dunedin's economy is benefiting from increasing numbers of summer cruise ship visitors. PHOTO:...
Dunedin's economy is benefiting from increasing numbers of summer cruise ship visitors. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Dunedin businesses are to be applauded for investing in the city’s economy, writes Dunedin City Council economic development committee chair Chris Staynes and councillor Christine Garey.

Recent economic data announced by Infometrics indicates our city is continuing to grow.

Our economy has grown more than 2% for four years in a row. Jobs increased by 883 for the year to March 2017, while the population grew by 1024 in the year to December 2017.

Between 2004 and 2014, growth in GDP grew at an average rate of 0.31% annually, and between 2015 and 2017, it has been growing at an average rate of 1.59%.

Between 2004 and 2014, employment grew at an average rate of 0.29%, and in the last three years it has been growing at an average rate of 0.79%.

Visitor numbers are up - it's obvious to anyone in the centre city over the summer the crowds of cruise ship visitors are good for our city's economy. More visitors have led to higher job numbers in the accommodation, food and tourism sectors. These sectors are also being boosted by a wealth of events at Forsyth Barr Stadium, which may increase now Dunedin has proven it can deliver world-class events after the stadium played host to close to 110,000 for the Ed Sheeran concerts over Easter.

Large building projects are keeping the construction sector busy, more houses are being built, and retail spending is up.

Modest improvements, but we're confident we're heading towards being a prosperous city full of opportunity. The challenge is how to keep the momentum going.

A key contributor to Dunedin's growth is business confidence, whether this is within our tertiary institutions, existing industry, the tourism sector or new start-ups. The willingness of industries to invest, remain, grow and innovate in our city is all helping.

When combined with proposed investments by the public sector, including the hospital redevelopment, and the innovative companies burgeoning in the biotechnology, creative, engineering, technology, education, and health industries, we believe we are well placed to deliver on the vision to make Dunedin one of the world's great small cities.

The city has identified our potential economic strengths are largely in the creative and research intensive areas like IT, design, the biomedical arena and the arts. These have grown out of the research and graduate output of the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic.

In the past few years, many tech industries and start-ups have emerged in Dunedin, employing highly-qualified people attracted to Dunedin's lifestyle, educational opportunities for their kids, recreational facilities, access to outdoor pursuits, and our thriving arts scene.

In the past, we worried about Dunedin's population and changing industry. While we're proud of our history, identity and assets, economic growth has been modest in recent decades.

In response to this, in 2010 a group comprising representatives of the Dunedin City Council, University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic, Otago Southland Employers' Association, Otago Chamber of Commerce, and Ngai Tahu sat up and took action, launching Dunedin's economic development strategy in 2013. Consultation and residents' surveys consistently told the council our community wanted us to prioritise economic development goals.

The economic development strategy is a 10-year blueprint for increasing incomes and job opportunities for Dunedin residents. It was also the first such strategy in NZ where stakeholder organisations came together and committed to a shared vision and responsibilities. Enterprise Dunedin will review the strategy over the next six months.

Our vision is ultimately about increasing incomes and job opportunities for those who live here. The strategy was aspirational and set challenging economic goals regarding increasing jobs and incomes.

Enterprise Dunedin, formed three years ago from the merger of Tourism Dunedin, the council's Economic Development Unit, and the i-SITE Visitor Centre, is facilitating delivery of the economic development strategy.

The Enterprise Dunedin team is working with city stakeholders to grow our economy. Increasingly, and due to the city's combined effort, we're becoming known nationally and internationally as a community where enterprise and creativity support a productive and sustainable city.

Cities around the world are asking us for advice on a range of economic programmes. A mayoral delegation from Bendigo, Australia, recently visited to learn about Dunedin's progress and successes. Bendigo is a similar size to Dunedin, has a university campus and gold rush history. The Bendigo visitors said they were inspired by the progress Dunedin is making and adopted some of our ideas and initiatives to help the economy of their city.

Exciting opportunities are coming up which will boost our economy, such as the Government's $1billion Provincial Growth Fund. Economic development arms of Otago councils are beginning to work together to identify regional opportunities which will support our residents.

Another opportunity is Damien van Brandenburg's spectacular waterfront plan. There's already an opportunity to have your say on the first stage of this plan. The council is asking for feedback on its 10-year plan, which includes a proposal to construct a pedestrian and cycling bridge linking the harbour side to the rest of the city.

A return to the halcyon days of the gold rush isn't going to happen for our city and we face some challenges. Our unemployment rate of 6.9% is higher than the national rate of 4.5%. We're at risk of losing business, skills and investment to other faster-growing cities in New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region. The world is experiencing an unprecedented rate of change, and our businesses and residents need to be able to respond quickly and plan ahead. Our competitors won't wait for us to catch up.

But it's encouraging to see examples every day of Dunedin people working together to grow our city. These range from helping an entrepreneur bring a new product to market, giving to the crowdfunding campaign to fund a new chocolate factory, or making it easy for overseas film crews to make television commercials or films on our beaches.

We need to continue our collaborative approaches to keep growing our thriving industries, keep visitors coming, and make Dunedin a desirable place to live in and visit.

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