[As published in May/June BayBuzz magazine.]

By all accounts there is a global trend away from the purchase of luxury items and restaurant meals towards more affordable small luxuries like chocolate, biscuits, and chippies as people struggle with the rising cost of living. 

Recently, however, Forbes put out its annual ranking of the world’s richest people. Apparently there are now 2,781 people with fortunes over USD $1bn (NZD $1.671bn) – up by 141 on last year. These billionaires have combined assets estimated at USD $14.2tn. 

How can we talk about biscuits and billionaires at the same time? 

I would suggest that this particular sense of dissonance comes from our unprecedented economic and geopolitical environment. Ukraine, Gaza, the US elections, climate change, the rise of AI, the rise of China, [insert your global trend]. With our country officially in recession, media stories full of job cuts, looming rates increases, and eye-watering infrastructure bills, it can all feel a bit doom and gloom, especially for a region like ours that is so dependent on export markets. 

Provisional data from Infometrics shows the Hawke’s Bay economy contracted 1.6% in the year to December 2023, with agriculture, manufacturing, transport, and retail all contributing to the fall in economic activity. This compares to a provisional national average GDP increase of 0.7%. Adjusted for inflation, spending fell in Hawke’s Bay, while employment continued to grow, although slowly. 

Taken as a whole we should be proud of what we achieved as a region considering what nature served up to us on 14 February last year. In the days following the cyclone I doubt many would have foreseen a report card like that. 

What is ahead of us is less certain. A recent Westpac Regional Roundup report described its ‘on the ground’ view of Hawke’s Bay households and business confidence as ‘’cool”. This is in line with other primary-sector dominated regions, notwithstanding a good apple harvest here in the Bay.

Our region has a lot to think about and a lot to do, with both great risk and great opportunity ahead. Many decisions made in the next year or two about ‘key economic enablers’ (roads, education, health, water, housing, connectivity, etc) will have far-reaching implications that will materially affect the well-being of future generations and the environment. All big decisions require trade-offs. How are we going to manage those trade-offs to ensure we have an inclusive economy with benefits flowing to all households?


HBREDA was set up by the region’s five local government councils, the six local PSGE entities, Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc, the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce, and the new Māori Business Network. The regional governance group, Matariki, acts as shareholder representative, agreeing HBREDA’s work programme and overseeing reporting and performance. An initial three-year funding commitment was made by the councils. 

I was appointed as CEO in August 2023 and the company was incorporated a month later. HBREDA’s independent board is chaired by Alasdair MacLeod and includes directors Rawinia Kamau, Caren Rangi, Erin Simpson, and Shayne Walker. 

During the pre-incorporation period, some of the funds set aside for HBREDA were put towards the development of a regional freight distribution strategy, led by the Napier Port, as well as a contribution to the region’s cyclone recovery plan. HBREDA was given the task of setting up a new business hub after the closure of the business hub in Ahuriri over a year ago. 

Te Rae, the new business hub

Te Rae, at 101 Queen St East Hastings, offers a number of meeting rooms for hire. It also houses the business support agencies, Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce, NZTE, Export NZ, Business Central, and, of course, HBREDA.

HBREDA has put a lot of thought into the kaupapa and interior design of Te Rae to reflect our region and people. The name Te Rae means ‘’forehead, a meeting of the minds, or strongminded’’, referencing our desire to create a space to share ideas and encourage collaboration. 

The concept and colour palette for the interior fitout of Te Rae were created by local architect and artist Alex Heperi (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, Ngāti Rakaipaaka, Rongomaiwahine, Ngāpuhi) and kaiako and artist Michelle Mataira (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rakaipaaka, Ngāti Apa) of Toimairangi, the School of Māori Visual Art based in Heretaunga/Hastings. Alex also designed the Te Rae logo with graphic design support from HB-raised Tim Hansen of Walter and Fay Design Studio.

The colours come from harakeke and other plants used for dyes and colouring as a nod to the cultural economy that existed over a 100 years ago in Heretaunga: a thriving textiles industry derived from the cultivation, production, and weaving of muka, the stripped fibre of the harakeke. Te Rae is also a gallery space to showcase and sell the works of local artists. 

Visit our new website www.terae.nz and book a room online. We’d love to welcome you.

What’s next for REDA?

My experience over the last few months setting up HBREDA has brought home the importance of being clear about what HBREDA’s role is and, importantly, what it is not. Economic development agencies come in all shapes and do most things under the sun. 

Listening carefully to our shareholders and stakeholders, we believe the most useful role we can play is largely in the thinking space. We don’t want to replicate the roles and functions of other organisations or bury ourselves in programme delivery. Our region needs joined up long-term thinking on our economy with a focus on how to improve well-being for all whānau at the household level. Thinking that has firm grounding in our national and international contexts.

We will soon launch research to better understand the Hawke’s Bay economy, including its current shape, opportunities, and challenges, including a particular lens on what is needed to boost the growth of Māori and Pasifika business. We are going to set up a business advisory group (or groups) to act as sounding boards to HBREDA and to provide advice around areas of focus in the business environment. 

We are finalising a study into telecommunications resilience post the cyclone. This work, with recommendations, will be provided to our region’s leaders. HBREDA will hold a contract on behalf of the region for economic data and insights that will be made freely available.

HBREDA on its own is not going to turn the dial on the Hawke’s Bay economy but we are going to play a role as regional conscience, an independent advocate for good decision-making, and a voice for the business community. We will keep you posted. 

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Economic Development Agency is hosting this regular column to stimulate conversation about our economy. We will share pieces of work and research that we are involved in and at times will open up this column space for guest writers. 


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