Monday article for Southland Times 10 November 1997
I spent the winter of 1989 researching the need for an economic development unit in Southland. At the time there were many grass-roots bodies attempting to put some Oomph into the economy.
There was Project Southland, which ran a competition for a Southland flag; Southland Employment Resource Centre which aimed to be a one-stop shop to facilitate job creation; Southland Promotions which concerned itself mainly with the visitor industry; many local promotions group including Gore who planted lily bulbs and specialist vegetables.
There were a myriad of product groups from cashmere producers to home hosters, from organics to crafts to farm forestry.
There was even a South Island Marketing Co-op which aimed to market anything and everything.
The brand new Southland District Council was advertising for its very first Rural Enterprise Adviser, having been offered financial assistance from government to do so.
All of that activity reflected the various energies and enthusiasms of Southlanders picking themselves up after the deep shocks of Rogernomics.
It was agreed by all at that time that an overall regional identity was desirable, however the trick was going to be how to co-ordinate all that activity without robbing the groups of their energy, initiative and ownership.
Eight years later we are still working on it! The groups themselves have evolved, some into strong professional bodies like Tourism Southland and Crops for Southland, others have quietly folded but all left their mark, for example the Southland flag still flies above some buildings, although a new banner graces the main streets.
Other bodies have come and gone. The Southland Rural Strategy Group began as a result of a Southland Times conference, beavered away for six or so years (backed by Southland District Council, Bank of New Zealand, Federated Farmers and MAF), then amalgamated with the Chamber of Commerce to become Focus Southland. The latter has successfully combined local business energy with research institute expertise and District Council credibility. The result is an impressive list of projects, and ability to source external funds. The only missing ingredient has been Invercargill City Council.
This is why it is ironic that Mr Harrington’s economic summit group wants to create a new body funded by all the councils and is piqued that Focus Southland says, ‘Look, just join ours. We’ve wanted you all along.’ So the result of the October series of meetings, ie a declaration of intent to centralise an economic development office within two years, has been a compromise less than satisfactory on all sides. The best part of the outcome will be an expanded mayoral forum, now to include some business leaders, hopefully to strategise at a regional level. And so we make progress, slowly.
In the meantime the various officers of the SDC and ICC will continue to co-operate at a functional level as before, backed by the resources of their own councils.
The many other special-purpose groups will continue with their work. Just to compare with 1989 here are some of them:
Tourism Southland, funded by all three districts;
Crops for Southland, supported by SDC and to a lesser extent by ICC;
‘Southland Spirit of a Nation’ regional branding strategy, supported by all councils.
Vibrant City, formed to upgrade Invercargill city centre, supported by ICC.
Education Southland bringing foreign students to Polytech and schools; supported by council membership.
Celebration of Southland, preparing for 1998 being the 150th birthday of the province;
SF2000 aiming to boost sheep farming productivity, supported short-term by SDC;
21 local area promotions groups throughout Southland, supported by SDC and Tourism Southland.
This is not all of them by any means but what that list shows is the degree of co-operation already existing between local groups and councils, and between the four councils themselves.
So while there is some grumbling and mumbling between town and country, the truth is more reassuring: underneath it all a lot of solid effective work is being done.
Fortrose 5RD Invercargill