In his Guest Buzzmaker column, entrepreneur Rod Drury talks about the good life he enjoys as a new resident of Hawke’s Bay. He notes that with decent broadband available and with larger cities a manageable short air hop away, people earning hearty incomes for work that principally “delivers” outside the region can not only survive, but thrive in the Bay.

“Live locally, work globally” can indeed become a mantra that drives increasing economic prosperity in Hawke’s Bay.

My own situation testifies to this potentiality as well. Approaching my family’s fifth anniversary in the Bay, I still have a “day job” focused abroad that earns our daily bread. In my case, with clients on the east coast of the US, fortunately my day job generally wraps up by noon. I am utterly dependent on decent broadband (thanks to Airnet) to make this feasible … but also to make possible the “cage-rattling” I try to do via BayBuzz in my off-hours!

Neither Rod nor I are dependent upon the 40% of the Hawke’s Bay economy that is driven by the primary sector. We are immune to droughts, frosts, seasonal worker shortages, and foreign protectionist farm lobbies. And our businesses have negligible adverse environmental footprints. There are many more like us in the Bay … and there could be many more.

Importantly, folks who work in fields that emphasize “head” work over “hand” work tend to earn higher incomes. This is a reality that our regional leaders – and Venture Hawke’s Bay – should give more strategic attention to.

Based upon 2006 Census figures, the median income in Hawke’s Bay for an individual aged 15 and above is a whopping $22,600 (compared to $24,400 nationally). The corresponding figure for Maori in HB, a growing proportion of our population, is $19,100. That doesn’t leave much spare change for Art Deco costumes, wine tasting, restaurant dining and espresso sipping.

45% of HB earners make less than $20,000 per year; only 14% make more than $50,000 per year. And that’s when they’re employed.

Here’s what the Bay’s income distribution looks like:

If one attends the occasional soul-searchings where the region’s grand poobahs contemplate the Bay’s economic prospects, discussion invariably centers around better marketing of the region … and this in turn tends toward a focus on increasing tourism.

Passions get highly aroused over whether Venture Hawke’s Bay or marketing staff at Napier or Hastings Councils should be doing more to sell the region’s often second-rate accommodations, or bump up the average tourist stay from 1.5 nights to 1.6 nights. As though this would constitute an economic development strategy for the region.

Instead, our region’s elected leaders and hired marketers should focus strategically on increasing incomes. An additional tourist night in HB might be worth $200-$300; an additional software developer taking up residence in the Bay might be worth $60,000 in additional spending.

And I submit that this focus would lead to a recognition that future income growth enjoyed in Hawke’s Bay by baristas, motel cleaning staff and shepherds is likely to be considerably less than income growth generated by software developers, engineers, designers and so forth.

Sure, we need and value people of all pursuits. Nevertheless, our region’s economic development team (perhaps “team” is wishful thinking) should be focused on where the future money is – on the conditions, benefits and amenities that will attract more “head” workers and their higher incomes into Hawke’s Bay.

As Rod points out, high speed broadband is one of those mandatories, since many of these workers will relate to colleagues and sell their “wares” outside the Bay … and instant, dependable, high capacity internet communications are essential to their functioning.

But I would argue that there are “softer” benefits to be ensured as well. Like ample, high quality cultural amenities (something big city folks are accustomed to). And a well-protected and nurtured natural environment (something big city folks want to escape to).

At the end of the day, prosperity in Hawke’s Bay won’t come from incremental growth in $22,600 median incomes. Let’s put our economic development focus where it will yield the most. Let’s focus on how to leap forward in raising incomes.

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