Dunedin must seize its chances

After nine years on the board of the Otago Chamber of Commerce, the final three as chairman, PeterMcIntyre has stood down, having served his three terms in office. As he leaves, he considers the economic future of Dunedin and Otago.

I believe our city and region have enormous potential for economic growth and greater prosperity. But right now, that bright future for Dunedin is not looking as rosy as it deserves to be.

Ironically, as the national economy shows signs of strong growth, this city is on the cusp of being a town, not a city, and the only people who can prevent that from happening is us.

We have to stop dwelling in the past, for a start. It's the easier option to look back and critique decisions that were made and can't be undone, but we need to focus on the future rather than wasting time arguing.

That's not to say that we can't learn from our mistakes - we can and we should.

The declining of the consent for the Dunedin waterfront hotel last year was personally disappointing; in particular the way some officials came out against it before public consultation.

We need to be nimble and grab opportunities such as the hotel project for our city and region. If we don't, other cities will gladly take them and we'll fall further back.

Invermay is another area where we could have done better. I think the lesson with Invermay is that we need to take a regular stocktake of our businesses and economy and not leave them to struggle on with problems in isolation.

Business and city leaders, for example, should have realised earlier the possibility of the Invermay loss, and had pre-emptive talks with the Government to raise awareness of the positive connections and impact the facility has.

Somehow, perhaps through a greater commitment to research in this area, we need to be more aware of the businesses and government departments we do have in Dunedin, and how they interact, so that when there is a problem, we can work together earlier as a community instead of all rushing with the stretcher as the rescue crew at the bottom of the cliff.

So, for example, we know a knowledge-based economy is key to our future, but a stocktake would show us what areas are growing, which are key to the future, and where the support is needed.

As part of that support, we also need a smaller, more dexterous council.

The Dunedin City Council needs to concentrate on removing red tape for businesses, such as better prioritisation of decision-making on planning projects, to ensure we can compete on a national and global scale.

I've heard council staff talk about the difficulties of doing that, but they need to pay this problem more than lip service and change needs to happen.

We also need councillors who are concentrating on local needs (as is their mandate) and not global issues that can't be solved at their level.

The Otago Regional Council can play its part by freeing up leasehold inner city land and enabling businesses to expand in confidence, while the University of Otago should be acting to ensure it does all it can to help.

Yes, the university is aware it makes up a big proportion of the economy in Dunedin already, but I'd like to see it participate further. It's not just a case of if the University does well, Dunedin prospers; it also works the other way around. If Dunedin prospers, the university is also sure to benefit.

The Otago Chamber of Commerce has and is working tremendously hard across the region on behalf of businesses and I'm proud to say I'm leaving it in good heart and good shape financially.

Its membership numbers could always be improved, however, and I believe all businesses should be members.

Many are possibly not aware of the strong business-advocacy role the chamber plays, and what it does to boost the economy, and in the areas of training and its contribution to the economic development strategy.

There seems to be a proportion of the population who think Dunedin shouldn't grow, that economic development comes at too high a cost.

Well, if we want to live in an area without a growing economy, then we need to prepare ourselves for even higher rates rises.

It's clear Otago has great businesses and potential. In the areas of small business, education, tourism, engineering, rural technology - and the burgeoning hope of a prospective gas industry - we are well served.

We have arts and culture and an enviable lifestyle - the most beautiful city in New Zealand, in my view.

We need to embrace all of these qualities and make sure we are giving ourselves the best opportunity to maintain our national status, our size, and to compete nationally and globally.

We shouldn't aim to be the ''best-kept secret'' anymore.

We need to be excited about change, because it is the only way we will survive as a city.


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