Like most people of my generation (some call it Generation X), I’ve always been pretty apathetic about local body politics. I understand that for baby-boomers who grew up in the 60s and 70s, politics was (and probably still is) an endlessly fascinating subject, but it’s never grabbed me.

Perhaps it was the student politicians at university that put me off small-time politics. Anyone who has been to university in New Zealand in the last 20 years will know what I’m talking about.

But as I approach the big four-zero, I’m grudgingly starting to take an interest in this stuff, much as an immigrant to these shores finds that learning the intricacies of rugby makes the New Zealand psyche a lot easier to understand.

Hawke’s Bay politics is important to me because I live here. I’ve been living here for four years and I like it so much, I’ll probably spend the rest of my life here.

I own a business called Mogul in Havelock North with my wife George. We’re digital marketing experts. In other words, we make websites and email newsletters and help businesses with their social media strategies. The business is going from strength to strength (touch wood) and hopefully it will become part of the fabric of Hawke’s Bay.

So, as a business owner, I’m desperate to see policies that will encourage the economic development of the region. We need to see more innovation and entrepreneurship, more new business ventures, more world-class companies based here, and more skilled workers attracted to the region.

My children will also live in Hawke’s Bay for the foreseeable future, since the schools are first-rate and the region is just a great place for kids to grow up. There are lots of parks for them to play in; there isn’t much traffic so they can ride bikes everywhere; the climate is very kid-friendly; and apart from the occasional siege of a steroid-crazed gunman, the place has a nice safe feel to it.

So I’ve put down some roots here and I better start getting involved in who makes the decisions.

The next question is: what does the council actually do, other than rubbish collection, parking fines and dog control? They must have some input into the management of the environment, with water quality and coastal erosion seeming to get a lot of press lately. Water quality is a massive issue and it’s probably a lot bigger than most people realise. They say the next big war won’t be fought over oil, it will be fought over fresh water.

Unfortunately, our economy relies heavily on dairy farming and cows don’t seem to mix very well with fresh lakes and rivers. So this is just one place where economic development comes up against the need to protect the environment.

Water quality is important for that other great economic driver, tourism. This was illustrated for me just yesterday when I met one of our neighbours for the first time (we moved last week). The first question he asked me was whether I like fishing. The reason he asked was that he has a fishing lodge near Patangata.

It turns out the lodge is a nice little earner and is always full with tourists. And foreign people who go fly-fishing are usually flush with cash. Just look at Paul Reynolds from Telecom. If the water quality goes down the gurgler, that will be the end of my neighbours’ fishing lodge, unless they could turn it into a Brokeback Mountain-style mountain retreat. There you go, there’s some innovative thinking for you.

Air pollution is something we’ve been hearing about lately too. I personally think the air here in Hawke’s Bay is fine. Mind you, I grew up in Christchurch in the 70s and 80s, so my lungs probably resemble a Cuban ashtray.

What else? Law and order, I suppose. And social development. The two go hand in hand, don’t they? I think Henare O’Keefe is doing a great job at the grassroots level in Flaxmere and it’s excellent to see Taine Randell lending his support to the MAC rugby club and the anti-obesity initiative. The 60 Minutes segment gave me a real buzz. I love to see people becoming proud again.

As well as grassroots support, we also need to attract and nurture superstars. By superstars, I mean real achievers and thought leaders who live here in Hawke’s Bay. We’ve unearthed quite a few lately. There’s Rod Drury, the two Kims (Thorp and Wicksteed – Mad Men through and through), Dick Frizzell, Hal Josephson, Taine Randell. Ian ‘Stockley’ Smith is always promoting Hawke’s Bay when he commentates. Lawrence Yule seems to be very well-regarded. The Evers-Swindell twins – are they still here.

Who else can we attract to the region? Why would they stay here? What makes Hawke’s Bay a viable place for a global player to set up shop?

We have the lifestyle. Of that I’m sure. But we need more. Infrastructure is crucial here. The runway extension is great news, but we need superfast Internet connections. Then geography ceases to be the deal-killer that it used to be. We can videoconference all day long and collaborate with teams around the world using applications we haven’t even dreamt of yet.

The opportunity is huge. As a country, we need to move away from the role of primary producer and become a highly skilled provider of high-quality, high-value products and services. And Hawke’s Bay is just the same. So we’re not just growing grass any more. We’re growing ideas. When the sun is shining and the air is clean and I can see snow on the tops of the mountains, I can think pretty clearly. Let’s make Hawke’s Bay a place for clever people to create great things that people pay lot of money for.

Then we’ll have some cash and then — who knows? — we could build the biggest sports park in the world if we really want to.

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1 Comment

  1. I don't disagree with anything that you've said Matt and the key for Hawke's Bay for me anyway is growth of the region is quality products and services away from what has been our base of farming and agriculture. Not that these need to take a backward step we just need to encourage businesses of all nature to set up shop here.

    The region seems to focus a lot of energy on tourism and whilst that contributes greatly for the region we need to expand on that. We need a cohesive collective drive towards seeking out new businesses opportunities here. We already have a number of successful businesses that have grown out of the Bay and apart from who Matt has already mentioned

    3R Group springs to mind. We need the councils to amalgamate and drive the region forward, and collectively is by far the better option.

    We live in one of the best climates and lifestyles in NZ and many people from other areas are envious of us and would love to live here and we must look to develop the opportunities for them to come here, bring their skills and assist the growth of the Bay.

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