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Interpreting data key to Waikato's economic growth

As Te Waka’s economic adviser, Blair Keenan is tasked with making sense of numbers and data to help provide strategic direction for Waikato’s regional economic development agency, which is tasked with making a difference for the region through action and impact-focused economic development.

Keenan is the principal economist for Waikato Regional Council where he advises on a wide range of regional issues. He has recently been involved in the Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora plan change project, the Waikato and Waipa River Restoration Strategy and the Waikato Freshwater strategy.

He’s now lending his strengths to Te Waka where he will provide analysis and commentary on the regional economy, industries, and labour markets.

Keenan points to several key issues for Te Waka, including productivity and understanding how we depend on natural resources.

“Waikato, like the rest of New Zealand and the western world, is lagging a bit productivity-wise, and economists and analysts can’t really agree on why that is. Our job is to unlock the reasons why there might be barriers to productivity in the Waikato region, and then do something about it,” he says.

As part of his role with Te Waka, Keenan will provide economic data and advice and quarterly updates and commentary on emerging trends as they relate to the Waikato region with data from Statistics New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), and national data provider Infometrics. Quarterly updates will be shared on Te Waka’s website and LinkedIn page.

Having worked with Te Waka’s predecessor, Waikato Means Business, Keenan is excited to see Waikato’s regional economic development agency get off the ground.

“It’s great to see Te Waka forging ahead. All of the parties involved have laid some good groundwork and we all have a really good understanding of the issues we’re faced with and what’s gone before us – now we can get stuck in and do the doing.”

Keenan says while there are loads of opportunities for the Waikato region, one that sticks out to him is the economic benefits to be gained from leveraging our position close to Tauranga and Auckland.

“There must be an opportunity to take advantage of what we call ‘a-glomeration effects’, where simply by virtue of being close to one another it’s easy to share skills, resources and networks. With our location being a vantage point, we can start to look at how we leverage investment, infrastructure and technology to enhance our links with Auckland and Tauranga, which happen to be two of two of New Zealand’s major trading ports.”

Keenan is well-prepared to share his economic data expertise with Te Waka. With an undergraduate degree from the University of Otago, Keenan worked at ANZ as a macro-economist and industry analyst for five years before heading overseas as a researcher for Japan’s External Trade Organisation in the UK. While in the UK he also received his Master’s degree in applied environmental economics from the University of London and was an economist at the National Farmers Union of England and Wales.

Back in New Zealand, he held several policy roles at Landcare Research, Department of Internal Affairs and Housing New Zealand before his current role as principal economist at Waikato Regional Council. He also continues to collaborate on projects with the University of Waikato, CRIs, central and local government, and a variety of industry groups.