I’ve become curious about what I’ve begun to think of as a missing “young professionals” generation in Hawke’s Bay … young-ish singles and parents in the 25-40 age range, who do not grow things.

In other places, these would be the folks who provided a lot of the dynamism of the community … on the make, trendy, making good salaries or building businesses, maybe launching families, working with their heads as opposed to their hands.

I don’t see as many of these people as I would expect. And so I asked a few I do know to write about their experience of Hawke’s Bay … Why are they here? Why aren’t there more of them? Is the Bay meeting their needs?

My test subjects are Georgina Miller, who runs a web development business, Mogul, with her husband Matt (they do the BayBuzz website) … Sophie Stewart, who runs a database marketing and client relationship company, Ninety-Nine. And Andrew Frame, a salaried man at PanPac. Confirming a pattern I expected, each of these three was born and bred in Hawke’s Bay. And each is happy to be in the Bay now, though each has apprehensions or frustrations.

So one wonders: Does Hawke’s Bay hold any appeal for young professionals who were not raised in Hawke’s Bay?!

To answer that, I interviewed Ian Beattie, Director of RIOT Corp, a recruiting firm specializing in finding employees for mid- to large-size companies in the Bay … companies looking for mid- to senior-level employees. I figured at least some of these companies would be looking for young-ish professionals.

Luckily I got a two-fer. Ian himself (and his fellow RIOT Director, Rohan Bowyer) fit the ‘demographic” I was looking for, as do many of the prospects he locates – many from Auckland or Wellington – for RIOT clients.

With a wife and young son, Ian moved into Hawke’s Bay, without a job in hand, about four years ago at the age of 39. He had been a corporate of TelstraClear and Teleco ilk, working in IT Management; his wife in a health product import biz. Two comfortable incomes.

But they just got itchy. On a holiday to Hawke’s Bay, they looked at a property and within days bought it. That was the catalyst setting their move in motion. What the Bay promised was good climate, a more laid-back lifestyle, quality schools for their son, a safe bike ride away, and that all-important but ever-amorphous … “enough going on.”

Upon arriving in Hawke’s Bay, Ian didn’t work for 4-5 months, then took a position at Hawke’s Bay Today, and then co-launched RIOT in late 2007.

The plunge into the relative unknown (he was raised in Gisborne) has worked for Ian, the benefits easily outweighing a few downsides – some loss of anonymity (“here it’s a village, everybody knows everybody”), “lousy shopping,” a somewhat lesser level of sophistication, missing friends of 25 years standing, and the need to re-establish a social network. But as Ian puts it, “there are compromises wherever you live” … in Auckland, getting anywhere means thirty minutes in the car, school classes are too big and distracting, and it rains too much.

His move to Hawke’s Bay makes Ian a credible salesman as he tries to entice the typical Auckland or Wellington professional prospect to take a position in the Bay. And at the same time, since RIOT offers a guarantee that its placements will work out, he has no incentive to over-sell the Bay.

About one-third of RIOT’s placements are recruited from outside the Bay. So which young professionals come to Hawke’s Bay in his experience?

  • Someone already connected somehow, typically through family, to the Bay.
  • Someone with children, or about to begin a family.
  • Someone, often, willing to accept some reduction in income in exchange for what they perceive as a better quality of life.
  • Someone moving into their third or fourth job – Ian said he sees CV after CV with the identical profile: graduated university, took job in Auckland or Wellington, then headed overseas for 2-3 years, then re-entered NZ via a position in Auckland or Wellington, then maybe ready to consider a change in lifestyle.

And what, if anything about the Bay inhibits his ability to recruit from the big cities?

  • Lack of a university – both as a magnet for higher skills and as a stay-home alternative for all the students who must now leave the area for university education.
  • An international airport – these are people who like to get away.
  • “Twin city” governance between two local bodies – inhibiting the scale and consolidation needed for some Bay-wide amenities.

For Ian, what would help, in terms of making his professional recruiting easier, is the consistent selling of the “HB Wine Country” brand. For attracting prospects to live and work here, as opposed to just visit, “Hawke’s Bay should be the brand,” he says, not Hastings or Napier or their individual events or attractions. “People want to move to Hawke’s Bay, which connotes to them a certain lifestyle.”

A lot of what Ian has to say, you’ll see reflected in the stories of Georgina, Sophie and Andrew.

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  1. It's interesting to make a comparison with a city/area like Palmerston North ,similar in population but with features largely a result of being more centrally located. There's a university, army and airforce base, goods distribution hub, large dairy/farming support sector, heavy government research and admin central offices and private corporation head offices.

    One of the major reasons for Toyota moving there was the existence of a university and the availability of graduates.

    At the end of the day you have to make the best of what you've got, maybe a pass mark for tourism in the bay but underperformance from the horticulture sector and with ultra-high speed internet a must have for the future.

  2. FYI – the Hawke's Bay Young Professionals networking group has over 110 active members who get together once a month. This is steadily growing through word-of-mouth advertising only!

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