Sometimes the best defence is a good offence.
That’s the tack taken by Venture Hawke’s Bay chair Neil Kirton in his article in the June/July BayBuzz Digest, where he takes on the renewed criticism of VHB following its recent reorganization.
Securing the Future of Venture Hawke’s Bay
By Neil Kirton
Venture Hawke’s Bay is the mandated economic development agency and regional tourism organization for the region and is a business unit of the Regional Council. Venture Hawke’s Bay took over these functions from the former Hawke’s Bay Inc. nearly one year ago on 1 July 2009.
Since then, Venture Hawke’s Bay has produced some top quality work across a broad range of tourism and economic development agendas. Criticism of Venture Hawke’s Bay ebbs and flows depending on the mood, political agenda and/or financial fortunes of a vociferous few. But I defy any critic to look carefully at what Venture Hawke’s Bay has delivered over the past year and reasonably assert that good progress is missing.
Just click to the web site and a nonpartisan observer will see a good regional portal, easily navigated and informative. Staff has done a superb job in sorting out the mess of a year ago, installing a cogent and professional site. Credit where credit is due.
Venture Hawke’s Bay’s innovation and productivity staff have secured $832,960 from Central Government for research and development projects in the region over the past year. There is more to come. Staff have successfully supported the bid for national cycleway funding, achieving $2.6 million for this project, which will add importantly to the scope of activities available to visitors to the region.
The Grow the Bay project focuses local investors and entrepreneurs on business investment and collaboration opportunities right here in our region. The KEA project, which taps HB expatriates living and working abroad as “ambassadors” for the Bay, is innovative and successful for the region. Planning around the Shanghai Expo will assist to showcase Hawke’s Bay businesses to the world and in China in particular. The Apple Future’s project has substantially enhanced the marketability of the region’s apple crop. These things don’t just happen. They take a lot of effort and they cost money!
Despite the knockers, the “Everything Under the Sun” tourism promotion boosted visitor numbers and is set to do the same in the shoulder season. Marketing staff produced the visitor guide, were active in rugby world cup planning, as well as events like lake to lighthouse, road cycling champs, off-shore power boating and the national singing school. Assistance is being provided for the world Optimist yachting competition next year. The list goes on, for those interested enough to do their homework before commenting.
The Venture Hawke’s Bay board had to make some hard calls about the organization’s future. With Government-funded projects coming to an end it was entirely prudent of the board to move to meet this reality by sizing Venture Hawke’s Bay according to next financial year’s revenue projections. The decision was made to create efficiencies and downsize. There was no choice about this given the need to fund direct spending for regional promotion and our new events strategy, as well as to refocus our economic development activities.
This next phase of Venture Hawke’s Bay’s development is a natural outcome following the “sorting out” of the organization’s operating platform. Janet Takarangi did a superb job in achieving this result. But it is time to move on.
Focus on Events
The board of Venture Hawke’s Bay sees a great opportunity to develop the region as a top destination for events. The region has so much to offer with excellent climate and first class facilities. Events of all kinds drive visitor numbers and create momentum in promoting the region. People need to have a reason to visit Hawke’s Bay and we need to add to our iconic events such as the Mission Concert, Horse of the Year, Art Deco and Harvest Festival.
But events development takes money and focus to achieve the results. A project to look at the best possibilities and to see how other regions operate is part of a study just getting under way. The hard part is dealing with the old Hawke’s Bay problem of parochial localized interests getting in the way of coordinating events activity. This is an essential ingredient in achieving better visitor outcomes for the region.
Venture Hawke’s Bay is looking to invest heavily in events development in the coming year. By making the efficiencies we have, we do not have to go back to the ratepayer for such development.
Water a key to economic development
The board of Venture Hawke’s Bay has thought hard about where we should position ourselves around regional economic development. We could continue to operate at the “micro” level, supporting local businesses and trying to promote innovation and productivity at that level. Or we can turn our minds to the bigger “macro” picture looking at major drivers of our Hawke’s Bay economy. The reality is that we are predominantly a primary producer. The region has the land, water and climate to produce food and trees for the world. The demand for our quality product is plain and obvious.
So we are going to focus substantially on the “water” project, where the Regional Council is on the cusp of making a very large investment. The aim is to develop water storage reservoirs so that around 30,000 hectares of land are able to be irrigated.
The role Venture Hawke’s Bay is set to play is to help answer the question – we have got water but now what? There is a clear need to consider all the options for new and increased food production. The entire water project is premised on the promise that whatever is produced can be processed and marketed to the world. Venture Hawke’s Bay’s new task is to study the options and come up with answers.
The board of Venture Hawke’s Bay will press on, thinking about our role and setting the direction and deliverables of the organization. We do so undeterred by those with their own, personal agendas, who seek to knock what is being achieved at every turn.