Venture Hawke’s Bay, as Rodney Dangerfield would have said, gets no respect. Including, historically, from other Councils. But that should change.

As our region’s tourism and economic development agency, VHB has new leadership over the last year in Neil Kirton (chair, representing the Regional Council) and Janet Takarangi (general manager), as well as quality senior staff.

The new, higher calibre of effort was reflected in a comprehensive presentation delivered by VHB to the Regional Council on Tuesday.

Some VHB materials have been a bit “theoretical” for my taste, but the presentations yesterday were crisp and concrete … here are the projects and deliverables we’re working on right now (and the list is impressive), and here are some of the things we’re not doing, because it would be non-strategic and dumb to do them (said more politely).

Here’s the core VHB Report that was presented, which I urge you — especially Hastings and Napier Councillors and pertinent staff — to read.

Excellent reports were also given on the work VHB is doing with the help of the University of Auckland’s Business School (e.g., on productivity tools and case studies to help the region’s mid-size businesses, identification and mitigation of obstacles to growth as seen by local businesses, and development of an Enterprise Fund to be financed by local investors), and on the visitor marketing plan for the balance of this fiscal year.

The visitor marketing plan is well-conceived. To me, that means it includes a clear strategy (which means you have coherent reasons for why you do certain activities and not others), a well-defined and limited set of priority audiences (not everything for everybody), a logical timeframe and deployment of VHB’s limited promotional resources, integrated use of media (TV and online), data capture on visitors (to permit continuing dialogue with them), and measurable outcomes to permit evaluation.

I’ll go out on a limb here — it’s a smart plan, which if well-executed by VHB and its agency, should produce results.

And even farther out on the limb, I even liked the new tagline VHB floated:

Hawke’s Bay … Everything under the sun

The most immediate “customers” of VHB are the current enterprises operating in the Bay (and potential ones), who expect added-value support from the agency.

But public accountability comes into play as well, given that HBRC ratepayers (and Kiwi taxpayers at large) provide the funds for VHB and its programs. So it is the public’s vision, as channeled by overseer HBRC, that must govern VHB’s priorities for how Hawke’s Bay should develop economically, not this or that “flavour of the day” entrepreneur or consultant or Councillor.

Because public accountability is required, VHB needs to do more to engage the public and make its work transparent … not the least, to other Councils. It is indeed a public agency after all, and its governance should proceed under the same kind of accountability groundrules as, for example, the joint committees that oversee regional transportation and the Hastings/Napier landfill.

VHB doesn’t need a lot of backseat drivers. But it does need a public constituency excited by its work.

Tom Belford

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