One final meeting today with the Suzhou Human Resource and Social Assurance Bureau to compare notes. This afternoon it was into Shanghai where I depart tomorrow to have a much needed holiday with my family 44 days after boarding the bus in Taupo.
It’s been a blast, both inspirational and exhausting. Why that combination? The incredibly smart people kept my head spinning the whole time and the sheer logistics constantly stretched me (11 flights – 5 overnight, 24 beds, driving over 6500km in the US and countless trains, buses, taxis and walking!). Getting to bed before 11pm was a luxury, so it was relentless but what an incredible experience.
So I need to say thanks. To the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for the opportunity, my wife and kids for holding the fort, my employer and team for making this possible, family and friends for their support and all the people I met along the way.
Here’s an initial summary.
Are the regions/provinces important?
This is a rhetorical question, of course they are although I’m biased. Their role is changing from simple primary producer (which is the main source of NZ’s exports) to more value add. The problem is that adding more value increases efficiency which means less jobs. Add in an aging population, centralisation to bigger citiies and it’s a tough road ahead. However successful regions are building on their strengths, connecting related industries and diversifying into new ones. Whereas previously locations would by grow by default this is not the case anymore – locations have to make themselves important or get left behind. The common factor in all the great places I visited was talented people. They had committed to innovative solutions over a long period of time, made mistakes and improved relentlessly.
What themes are impacting local economies?
Technology is significantly changing the nature of work including the internet of things, apps, robotics and automation. Shifting demographics is driving urbanisation, mega cities, aging populations and lower birth rates. We are truly in a global village and the only thing constant is change. However, not all that is predicted will come true (“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”) so we’ve got to take all these predictions with a grain of salt and if you want to create change then do so.
What tools are available?
From my observations, economic development is a young industry in NZ which means we don’t have the experience of all the tools available. We are small enough to implement easily and it gives us an opportunity to apply all the great bits and add our own innovation. Will we have the patience though? Some of the tools available are Retention/Growth, Attraction, Workforce & education, Entrepreneurship, Metrics/data, Strategy, Brand, Collaboration, Clusters, Enterprize Zones, Mainstreet, Infrastructure, Financing, Small Business, the list goes one.
There are so many models and theories and there is no silver bullet. We need to look at context for each location – what fits best? Economic development is an interconnected web, and all it takes is one element to be weak and it flows through into the rest.
Metrics are often ignored because it can take a very long time to see impacts when we all want results today. While measures like jobs and GDP are important, more robustness is needed to move from the headlines into the real engines that really drive economic growth things like intellectual property created, business starts/survival rates and GDP per capita. If we combine metrics with technology, then imagine what would be possible!
Is there a future for the provinces?
Yes and no. We need to have the zombie town debate, as some places won’t survive. However no one has a crystal ball, so who knows what the future will look like? I witnessed many places carving a bright future for themselves with a number reinventing themselves.
In talking about regions we have to talk about cities. Make no mistake, cities are important, but the regions are just as important so we need to shift the conversation from ‘cities or regions’ to ‘cities and regions’. Cities are bit like oldest siblings (I’m on so I can say it). They naturally get all the attention and also take a lot of responsibility and leadership, but often it’s the younger sibling who is achieving just as well and might just have more potential because they have to work harder. Several people in both cities and rural locations talked about the interdependence of both on each other and I think that is spot on.
Anything is possible and in the same way a few people can make a location a few people break a location. It’s everyone’s responsibility to grow places – business, government, the 3rd sector but most importantly people.
Thanks and see you soon!
The blog will be taking a break for a while. I’m thinking about resuming service on something like weekly basis – less the international travel of course. Thanks to you for reading and talk soon!