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Shaping a ‘slice of heaven’ for Waikato

Image: Liza Van der Merwe Associate Director Deloitte Access Economics

Land opportunity, lower traffic congestion, and being on the doorstep of Auckland’s International Airport are huge advantages for the Waikato, according to a panel discussion hosted by Deloitte and Waikato Economic Development Agency, Te Waka.

The panel discussion was part of the Shaping our slice of heaven: Regions of opportunity event, and focused on a report of the same name launched by Deloitte in May.

Business leaders from around the Waikato gathered to discuss how the report findings could benefit the region’s economy, and where the growth potential lies.

On the panel was Dallas Fisher, Chairman of Te Waka, Wayne McNee, Chief Executive of Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC), Russel Alexander, CEO of Hobbiton, and Dacey Balle, Managing Director of Balle Bros.

Liza Van der Merwe, Associate Director of Deloitte Access Economics, and Blair Keenan, Principal Economist for the Waikato Regional Council, were keynote speakers at the event.

Van der Merwe, who also co-authored the Shaping our slice of heaven: Regions of opportunity report, says Waikato has strong export potential in tourism, agriculture and food processing – areas the region should capitalise on.

“Waikato is in a good position to realise the opportunities that are presented, particularly in regards to tourism which was noted in our report to have the highest earning potential,” she says. “Agribusiness is another key industry for Waikato, and has benefits for neighbouring regions in the form of domestic trade.”

Although agribusiness was discussed as a key export for the region, Van der Merwe says it also comes with its challenges, especially around sustainable practice.

“Agribusiness has a comparative advantage in New Zealand so the question is, how can farmers and those within the industry operate in a way that’s both sustainable and beneficial for the economy in the long-term?”.

Van der Merwe said the report findings should be used as a tool for regions to work together to maximize economic success, rather than working in silos.

“We see the possibilities and prosperities that lie ahead for New Zealand if regions collaborate, and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Businesses like Te Waka have already been capitalising on those opportunities.”

Michael Bassett-Foss, CEO of Te Waka, says they have been working with local iwi, council and businesses on boosting the region’s economy, as well as with nearby regions on maximising economic opportunities.  

“We’ve heard many times that Waikato is at the center of the ‘golden triangle’ between Auckland and Tauranga. Waikato is a transportation link between these two regions, and when the continued development of logistics hubs, and the Waikato Expressway, are completed in the next couple of years that will only strengthen the region’s trading links,” he says.

Bassett-Foss is confident they can also capture spillover from other regions, and support potential growth from both a regional and national perspective.

“Recently Te Waka, along with the Waikato District Council, have been working with Australia’s biggest bed-maker, Comfort Group, who plan to move their Auckland operations to Waikato and develop a $1 billion manufacturing and housing community.”

Comfort Group, who own Sleepyhead, SleepMaker and Dunlop Foams, have bought 176ha of rural land in the Waikato where they intend to build a mixed-use community with more than 1000 new homes, while enhancing their manufacturing space.

“Comfort Group’s plans to migrate south to expand their operations is one example of how our region can support overflow from nearby regions like Auckland.” 

“But it isn’t about competition. As the report by Deloitte outlines, it’s a matter of working collectively to both strengthen our own regional potential, and work across the board for a more coordinated effort in advancing New Zealand’s overall export potential.”  

Bassett-Foss says they’re also working closely with key stakeholders in Waikato to develop a plan that leverages the region’s tourism opportunities.

“We have been working closely with stakeholder groups, including iwi, on developing a tourism package that showcases the region’s natural assets. We’re home to rich, Māori culture and heritage here. It’s something that’s unique and distinct about the Waikato, and it should be recognised and celebrated.”

The Shaping our slice of heaven: Regions of opportunity report looks at the export potential of tourism, agribusiness, food processing and advanced manufacturing across five of New Zealand’s most populated regions.

Auckland, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay/Gisborne, Wellington and Canterbury were the regions of focus, and using economic models Deloitte assessed the potential economic impact of the four industries in these regions.

According to the report, Waikato has the potential to earn $1.4 billion through tourism, and $500 million through agribusiness by 2040, if government export targets are met. 

A further $800 million could be added to the local economy through food processing, which could also increase employment by 2,900 FTE by 2040, according to the report