By Jim Scott
The South Canterbury region, located between the Waitaki and Rangitata rivers, the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Alps, excels as a world-class performer for our nation’s two leading foreign exchange earners, tourism and agriculture.
Does South Canterbury’s super-efficient use of its region and its infrastructure make it our nation’s No 1 economic performer?
The answer is probably yes because despite our modest population and relatively low public profile, we never fail to excel during both boom and bust periods.
To maintain our pre-eminence, we need to develop a South Canterbury economic plan. This plan should focus on fostering new opportunities, while still working to further advance the current star performers.
A primary function of this plan would be to ensure that all future economic challenges and aspirations are regularly communicated to key departments of central government.
The current Coalition Government’s return to the “old style” political lobbying practices of the last century, rather than long-term industry strategic planning, demands that we respond accordingly.
Factoring in the new central government style with South Canterbury having a small population base and three totally independent local bodies is less than ideal.
Our tourism industry is driven by the unparalleled appeal of the Mackenzie Basin, with Mt Cook, Tekapo and Twizel proving to be huge magnets for both international tourists and domestic visitors alike.
Sadly, from a visitor industry perspective, Mt Cook and the Tasman Glacier area of the Mackenzie Basin remain massively under-resourced and underdeveloped.
Northland and Queenstown appear to be attracting the bulk of central government interest and funding.
Our agricultural sector has high-efficiency dairy farming, on generally stony alluvial terrain, developed from previously lower-productivity sheep and cattle farming.
Dairy farming is being complemented by a wide range of high-productivity cropping farms. We desperately need to see more attention being given to expanding the irrigation volumes and coverage servicing all our diverse agricultural activities, essential during prolonged dry periods.
We have three large dairy factories, two large freezing works and a deepwater port that connects us directly to world markets for logs, dairy products, containers and general cargo.
A strong deep-sea fishing industry presence and an airport with regular flights connecting us to Wellington and beyond also serve us well.
Our world-class hydro-electricity generation using multi-tier lakes and dams between the mountains and the sea uses the same water for electricity generation again and again.
The Government’s recent oil and gas industry “nuclear moment” sadly looks like having robbed us of yet another strategically critical economic wellbeing opportunity.
A region-wide forestry development programme would add further economic diversity, which could subsequently underpin major new added-value manufactured products for exporting through our port.
Timaru resident Jim Scott is a former Air New Zealand chief executive officer and a strategic consultant for small-to-medium enterprises.