Chinese Businesses Suggest Ways To Grow Economy

February 10, 2009

I attended a very special event at Parliament tonight.  Around 150 Chinese business leaders were invited by Pansy Wong to speak direct to the Prime Minister and relevant Ministers – Groser (Trade), Coleman (Immigration) and Wong on how we can get the economy growing again.  Tim Gibson from NZTE, a couple of other officials and I were privileged to be included on the invitation list.  What struck me was the similarity of view from this group of business people from one ethnic source to the wider views of the business community.  Immigration (particularly business migration), tourism and education were seen a key drivers of the recovery.  There was also a strong call for an improved export performance and a need to harness the skills of the wider New Zealand diaspora.  The PM spoke well.  Some of you regard me as too optimistic.  You should have heard the PM tonight.   Many in the audience supported this assessment.  Opportunity was a common theme of the comments from the floor.  I agree fully with suggestions from Ministers Coleman and Groser that this event become an annual one.

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Wellington Indoor Stadium (4)

February 9, 2009

Another good article in today’s Dominion Post, including strong words from the Mayor:

A furious Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast said his action was an “ultimate betrayal” that would cost ratepayers dearly.

“For a councillor who constantly lectures us on fiscal responsibility, I think it is the ultimate betrayal that he is willing to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of ratepayers’ money appealing something that has broad councillor support and community support.”

I am fully behind the Mayor on this issue and also support the removal of Cr Foster from the Council posts he occupies.  I agree also that there is an issue over whether Cr Foster should resign from the Council.

APEC Business Advisory Committee

February 8, 2009

In a few minutes we shall be hosting a reception here at the Chamber for the delegates to the APEC Business Advisory Commitee (ABAC) who will be meeting in Wellington over the next few days.  Each APEC member is able to appoint three representatives, but many also bring along a team of advisers.  In total close to 200 will be in wellington for this meeting. 

In my comments to tonight’s function I will be encouraging delegates to be putting more pressure on their governments to be delivering on the undertakings made at APEC meetings.  At last year’s meeting in Lima the call for progress on the WTO negotiations could not have been clearer.  Yet, within a couple of weeks the proposed meeting of Trade Ministers in Geneva was called off.  The pressure on Governments from those who favour protectionism are growing stronger every day.  The business community needs to put equal weight on government to keep markets open and trade flowing.

Wellington Indoor Stadium (3)

February 7, 2009

I have just caught up with the editorial from Thursday’s The Wellingtonian.  It is on the Indoor Stadium issue and is spot on (it was clearly written to try and deter the lodging of appeals).  I agree fully.  It is time for petty politics to stop on this issue.  So far I have spoken to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Councillor John Morrison.  All say that they share my outrage.

Wellington Indoor Staium (2)

February 7, 2009

I am pleased to see that there is good coverage of what has happened in today’s Dominion Post – an article on the front page and a feature.

OK, I agree that the stadium would have been better located close to the Westpac Trust Stadium, but all the work I have seen suggests that Cobham Park is both the cheapest and the best option for the facility inj terms of size (the inner city site would only be 8 courts) and parking.

What annoys me most is that a Councillor has broken ranks from a collective decision and is going to delay this project for 2 years.  I feel sorry for the sports codes who will suffer most from these delays.  I feel sorry for the construction workers who need this work right now and who will miss out.  And I feel that there are serious governance principles that have been breached by what has happened.  I hope that this is not simply a Councillor seeking an opportunity to grandstand and get more profile in the run up to the next Mayoral election.

Wellington Indoor Stadium

February 6, 2009

I am outraged.  Why isn’t the Dominion Post informing Wellington about what is going on??

WelTec Graduation

February 6, 2009

It doesn’t get the attention of Victoria or Massey Universities, but one of the most important education institutions in this town is the Wellington Institute of Technology – WelTec.  I was last evening the guest speaker at the WelTec graduation ceremony.  Here are my speaking notes: 

 

Peter Steel, Deputy Chairman and Council Members, Linda Sissons CEO and Staff, Your Worship David Ogden, Mayor of Hutt City,  those who are about to Graduate or receive Honorary Degrees, ladies and gentlemen, I am deeply honoured to have been asked to speak at this graduation ceremony.

 

As of 7 February I will have been the CEO of the Wellington regional Chamber of Commerce for four years.  Four years ago I knew virtually nothing about WelTec, but over the past four years I have worked very closely with Linda Sissons and her team, and I have to say that I have been nothing but impressed.  WelTec is a key component of the Wellington economy, and I can only see that importance growing over the next few years.

 

If I had given this address 12 months ago it would have been very different.  I would still have been saying very positive things about WelTec, but my focus would have been on skills and people shortages and on the role that WelTec could play in boosting our productivity performance.

 

12 months on we no longer have full employment.  We do have a productivity challenge and there are still some skills shortages, but the problems we face in the short term are more acute as an economy.  And for many firms the challenge right now is how to survive.  A very different challenge to last year’s – how do I find more staff….

 

Everyday, the news appears to be getting bleaker, internationally and domestically.  I have to say that I am very worried.  We don’t know when this crisis is going to bottom out or at what level.  We should not underestimate how bad things could get.  I have just spent a few weeks in Europe and things there are much worse than they are here.

 

But we should not overlook the positives either.  My view is that Wellington is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that are going to be presented by the current global challenges.  And you the graduates of WelTec are particularly well placed to take advantage of these opportunities.

 

At the most basic level you have just upgraded your qualifications and skill levels.  That puts you at an advantage over those who have not been so wise in a tight labour market.  I also think that you have been particularly wise to have studied at WelTec because the qualifications you are about to have conferred are perfectly aligned to the opportunities that are opening up for New Zealand and Wellington in particular.

 

This alignment is not a matter of chance.  WelTec needs to be commended for the way in which it has integrated itself into the local business scene and has stayed closely in touch with employer groups, economic development agencies and individual companies to ensure that the courses offered are directly relevant to employer needs.  I am not sure how widely this great work by Linda Sissons and her team is appreciated.

 

Let me say some more about the opportunities as I see them.  I will begin with an example.  Aside from insolvency practitioners, there are precious few growth areas in our economy right now. But  WelTec and other tertiary education institutions happen to be in a growth area right now.  Already enrollments for 2009 are up and this demand is only going to grow as the year progresses.  This demand is in part being driven by tighter labour market conditions.  But there also seems to be growth in international student interest.  Why is international interest growing again?  One of the benefits of the current international financial turmoil is that our currency has declined in value by a substantial amount vis a vis the US dollar and Euro and all those currencies tied in value to the US dollar (significantly China is one of these currencies).  Europe has pretty much priced itself out of the market.  The US is also seen as relatively expensive.  But New Zealand (and Australia) and being seen as high quality markets that are increasingly price competitive.  This is particularly significant as education is a real are of strength for our economy.  Aside from WelTec we have Victoria University, Massey, the Otago Medical School plus another couple of polytechnics and some great schools.

 

Let me give another example. Just before Christmas NZ winegrowers held a tasting in London at exactly the same time as a leading importer of Burgundy was hosting a tasting.  Normally, this would mean that many buyers would miss the New Zealand tasting.  But not in current market conditions.  The New Zealand tasting was packed while the Burgundy tasting had only five visitors.  The high value of the Euro has made Burgundy unaffordable. New Zealand Pinot Noir in contrast is becoming more affordable by the day.  New Zealand sparkling wine sales were strong in the UK over the Christmas/New Year period while demand for Champagne was well down.

 

We do as a region produce a bit of wine over in the Wairarapa, but far more significantly this same factor is going to play our way in other areas – the services economy where Wellington is national leader. Aside from education, hospitality and tourism, film and television, design, information technology – all areas of direct relevance to many of the qualifications you are about to have conferred – will benefit.

 

International tourist numbers are down right now.  People are staying home, or holidaying closer to home than has been the norm.  But this will change.  Word will soon get around about how great the value of a holiday is compared to North America or Europe.  And because Europe and North America have become so expensive, more New Zealanders will be holidaying in New Zealand, our domestic tourism will grow.

 

Of course, the other area of opportunity presenting itself is the Government’s proposed acceleration of expenditure on infrastructure.  Already we were under some strain in this space with the skills shortage really hurting.  The downturn in construction eased this pressure considerably, but I would have thought that all graduates from WelTec’s Centre for Industry and Trade Technology will be very welcome in the market place over the next few months.  And don’t forget that the US, UK, Australian and many other Governments are embarking on similarly adventurous infrastructure investments.  This could well create opportunities for some of you beyond our borders.

 

One area of the WelTec family that has been a particular focus of my attention has been the work done in the Centre for Service Industries, particularly relating to hospitality, food and beverage.  I was delighted a few months back that the excellence of the work done by WelTec has been recognized nationally. I see huge opportunities for this area of WelTec’s activities to grow.  This is an area where nationally we have a real need to up our act, particularly with big events such as Rugby World Cup 2011 fast approaching.  Longer term, if we are really going to grow our tourism industry we are going to have to offer a higher quality service in our hotels and in our restaurants.  This is only going to occur if WelTec keeps up the excellence that has developed in recent years.

 

Finally can I commend those who have studied business and management over the past few years.  This is another area of skill deficit in New Zealand.  We don’t have enough trained managers and too few of our companies are run by people with formal business training.

 

Congratulations on the qualifications you are about to receive.  Thank you for upskilling.  And thank you WelTec for turning out another fine group of graduates in areas so critical to our economic future.  I look forward to continuing to work closely with Linda Sissions and the WelTec team over the year ahead.  It is going to be a challenging year, and I see WelTec and other Tertiary Education providers as playing a key role in the response to these challenges.  We will need to engage closely with Government on funding policy to ensure that WelTec and others are able to deliver this contribution.  Existing policy settings may not be the right ones for the difficult times we are facing.

 

Thank you again for asking me to speak.  It has been a great honour.  Can I end by wishing tonight’s graduates all the best for their future careers, and could I make a plea for as many of you as possible to stay in the Wellington region.  We need your qualifications.

Labour Market Data

February 5, 2009

The latest numbers are out.

Here is our reaction

 

Mixed Messages in Wellington Labour Market Data

 

While unemployment continues to rise, there are some bright spots for the Wellington labour market based on today’s statistical release and the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce’s recent survey of Wellington businesses.

 

 

Chamber CEO, Charles Finny said that while the labour market is easing, not all businesses are finding it easier to find staff.

 

“There is something of a ‘dual labour market’ occurring where staff shortages still remain in many areas particularly, in the services sector, while others are reducing staff numbers.

 

“Our just-completed survey of businesses showed increased numbers of Wellington employers are expecting to take on new staff in the coming months while there were also increased numbers expecting to reduce staff.

 

“In spite of the increasing unemployment, many businesses are still citing ‘staff shortages’ and ‘difficulty to recruit and retain’ as their key concerns.

 

“However, all in all, our survey showed a marked increase in the proportion of businesses finding staff easier to find than it was three months ago. It is also significant that 27% of respondents said that they were likely to reduce staff numbers in the coming moths. This is up from 23.8% three months ago,” said Mr Finny.

The Household Labour Force Survey, released today, shows that in spite of increased unemployment, many businesses are still taking on new staff with job numbers up 0.9% nationwide over the December quarter – a record high.  However, while job numbers are up the total number of hours worked has fallen consistent with the slowing economy. 

 

While not so accurate at the regional level, the survey shows job numbers in Wellington are also up, 9,600 or 3.6% over the year.  

 “Our assessment, backed up by today’s data, is that ‘labour hoarding’ is occurring.   More people are being employed but are working fewer hours on average.  This is partly because many employers want to try and hold on to staff through the downturn, in spite of less work, as they may be hard to find later,” said Mr Finny.

 “All in all, though it will be a difficult road ahead for employers and we are pleased with the government’s recent announcements which will go someway toward relieving the pressure,” Mr Finny concluded.  

SME Package

February 5, 2009

I have done a number of media interviews (Radio NZ, Newstalk ZB, Dom Post) on yesterday’s announcement by the Government.  The proposals won’t solve all problems but they are a useful response to the challenges confronting us.  Here is our press release from yesterday:

Small Business Welcomes Government Tax Package

 

The initiatives contained in today’s Small Business Relief Package will provide welcome relief for cash strapped businesses according to the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce.

 

“Cash flow problems are an increasing area of concern for small businesses in particular and the measures announced today are a pragmatic response to the extraordinary economic conditions we currently face”, said Chamber CEO Charles Finny.

 

“Adjustments to the provisional tax rules will give businesses more flexibility in the timing of their tax payments.  This is will be extremely valuable to them in the current economic environment.

 

“The announcement comes as our latest business confidence survey reconfirmed the difficulties businesses are facing in managing their cash flows and this initiative will be a welcome respite.

 

“The tax compliance measures, including the higher tax-return thresholds, will reduce the number of transactions small and medium sized businesses have with the IRD and will be well-received.

 

“The directive to government departments to pay their bills promptly is something Wellington businesses have been talking to us a lot about recently and we are pleased the government has acknowledged our concerns.  In a survey late last year 28.6% of businesses told us they have experienced such delays in paying invoices.

 

“We are also pleased that the government will allow the New Zealand Export Credit Office to provide short-term credit insurance for exporters.  A number of our members have reported difficulties over payments for exports in recent months.

 

“All in all this is a well-timed package which will go some way towards relieving the pressure on business at this difficult time,” Mr Finny concluded.

RMA Changes

February 5, 2009

We were very pleased with the announcement on Tuesday of the changes to the Resource Management Act.  Here is a copy of our press statement:

Resource Management Proposals a Boost for Business

 

The Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce has welcomed the proposed Resource Management Act reforms announced by the government today.

 

“The cost and uncertainty brought about by the RMA has been a real obstacle to business investment,” said Chamber CEO, Charles Finny. 

 

“Streamlining the processes around obtaining resource consents will prove to be a real tonic for economic growth.

 

“Small businesses in particular can face crippling costs and delays under the RMA and today’s proposals will go along way towards reducing them.

 

“The prevention of frivolous, vexatious and anti-competitive objections to developments is particularly welcome as is the option for applicants to go directly to independent commissioners.

 

The Chamber will scrutinise the proposals in more detail and looks forward to making a submission on the Bill at the Select Committee stage,” Mr Finny concluded.