“… the efforts were fragmented and the time duplicated”
As a newcomer to Hawke’s Bay fifteen years ago, I quickly saw the unrealised potential of the region for tourism and economic development. I could also see that there were several groups, organisations and associations all with good intentions, but all doing their own thing, so the efforts were fragmented and a lot of the time duplicated.
In short, there was a lack of collaborative action.
I’ve never been one to stand back and just be an observer, so I threw myself wholeheartedly into the group behind the Hawke’s Bay Wine Country brand and the formation of the Hawke’s Bay Wine Country Tourism Association.
Although that group had a focus on regional tourism, there was always an underlying belief that an umbrella strategy for economic development was the key to growth and prosperity for Hawke’s Bay.
I learned a lot through that process. Wine Country created a common unity of purpose and defined the type of place Hawke’s Bay was. We managed to set up communication and cooperative systems that helped to alleviate the duplication and allowed us to have a coordinated approach to doing things in our region.
It is also fair to say that if it were not being driven by the private sector, it would not have happened.
While the Wine Country brand went on to be a wonderful unifying element for Hawke’s Bay, and led to a golden period of increased tourism energy and awareness for the region, momentum was lost; and I feel the region is once again falling short in its performance. There also seems to be a woeful lack of vision for the future.
This was emphatically brought home to me last year when I was interviewing local residents during the research phase of the re-establishment of the Community Foundation Hawke’s Bay, soon to be re-launched as Hawke’s Bay Trust. Community foundations have become a worldwide phenomenon when it comes to giving at a local level, with the establishment of substantial endowment funds dedicated to supporting the local community.
My discussions as incoming chair of the Trust with a wide range of people uncovered a glaring dissatisfaction with the lack of strategic vision in the region. While some of those I spoke to considered support of a community foundation to be at a more grassroots level, such as sports clubs, planting projects and youth services, others were really looking at the big picture and want to leave their mark through the successful development of lasting and permanent infrastructure.
But where to put their money to work? They are constantly approached by numerous fundraisers and organisations, all working in isolation on their own particular project. No one denies that these are all good and worthwhile causes, but with a lack of long term strategic vision for the region there is a general feeling that it is all very ad hoc, with no overall plan. When potential contributors are serious about committing funds to a community project or anything in a community, they really want to know what it will be used for and how it fits into the bigger picture. They want to be assured that what it is spent on is not wastefully duplicated 20kms away.
So in the middle of last year, it came about that a random group of concerned members of our community came together to discuss how we could get a movement going to make more people conscious of some of the issues inhibiting regional growth. What evolved was A Better Hawke’s Bay. As stakeholders, we felt it was vital for the councils to look at the issues they face and focus on a way forward for the region.
Of course none of this is new thinking. Over the past decade we have seen economic development organisations come and go with little apparent effect. Vision 20/20 was the driving force in the early days of our Wine Country work. This was replaced by Hawke’s Bay Incorporated, soon to be morphed into Venture Hawke’s Bay. So much energy was expended on talking around what was needed, getting consultants in to tell us what we already knew, and what was the best structure to achieve it, and tangible results were few and far between.
I felt like we were back at ground zero, and all the well-meaning effort that people had contributed in the past was for nothing. The group was frustrated with where we were as a Region and understood that change in some form was essential. A Better Hawke’s Bay has received wonderful support and this has helped us all to push forward and voluntarily dedicate our time and energy. We have stepped up and stated plainly and clearly that we need an independent study into improving regional prosperity.
And as a group we don’t presume any pre-ordained outcomes, such as amalgamation or an extension of shared resources; the study into how we can improve the social and economic performance of Hawke’s Bay is exactly that. We need to look at where we are today, where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and how we can use this information to sustain our current successes, change what needs changing and further propel us into the future.
We enjoy a fantastic reputation as a region, we look glamorous to the visitor. However, we are still small, and suffer from a disproportionate number of poor demographic statistics, which in the long term will undermine our credibility and success. This once-in-a-generation study will hopefully identify why the social and economic performance of Hawke’s Bay is at the bottom of the national table, having equal ranking with Northland and Wanganui.
So that is why I am adamant we keep the pressure on all of the councils to develop a soundly researched strategic plan for the whole region. Difficult as it may be for the councils to accept this challenge, a high quality study that learns from the past, looks at emerging trends and translates this into future opportunities is a fundamental part of their function as our elected representatives.
Then having the courage and foresight to act collectively and collaboratively on the outcomes and recommendations of such a study will demonstrate their own commitment to what we all need to buy into as a region. They need to demonstrate the leadership necessary to guide us into a brighter future.
Like you, all I have ever wanted is for Hawke’s Bay to be as good as it can be. This is my home and I am committed to being involved in the necessary changes because I want the best future for my family, friends and the people of our region.