"A View to the South" BERL Report
This evening I attended the launch of the WWF funded BERL report, A View to the South: Potential Low Carbon Growth Opportunities for the Southern Region. With Solid Energy having purchased around 5,000 hectares of arable land with the intention of mining lignite, many in the South have been led to believe that this is the best option for growing jobs and boosting the local economy. WWF saw this report as a useful document to present other alternatives for economic growth that would be low in carbon emissions and more sustainable in the long term. The report was prepared by Dr Ganesh Nana, a very respected business and economic researcher and analyst, and his colleague Fiona Stokes.
Dr Nana presented the report to a packed meeting room in the Invercargill Library and he provided an overview of his approach and the intent of the document. The report initially looked at the current economy of the region and produced projections based on existing activity and continuing a business as usual (BAU) approach. Dr Nana's projections revealed that BAU would see the local GDP increase by about 2.34 % per annum. He saw this as a comfortable increase but was under realizing the potential of the region.
The report then compared BAU with four existing and prominent industries that had the potential to be developed further and these were: Forestry, Engineering, Education and Horticulture/Crops. Dr Nana suggested with appropriate leadership and investment in science and innovation then both GDP and job creation could be advanced well beyond the return from BAU. Within each industry the report looked at different aspects that had the potential for further development.
Dr Nana talked about the importance of exports to support a healthy economy and made much of the fact that the Southland region did more to support exports than our major cities. Considering its relatively small population (just over 2% of the total pop.) Southland's economic value to the national economy was over 11%.
Dairying representatives at the launch expressed concern with the fact that continued investment in dairying was questioned. Dr Nana explained that there needs to be a decision on how much we should invest in one industry and suggested that greater diversity in farming was important as an investment strategy. Any good investment portfolio should have investments spread over a number of interests so that any down turn in one area could be compensated by growth in another and this should also be true in farming.
Dr Nana made it clear that if we wanted our local economy to continue strongly into the future we had to take account of environmental sustainability and plan ahead. When someone suggested that we have little influence over our government and are limited in what we can progress ourselves, he disagreed. Because our economy contributed substantially to the national one, Dr Nana explained that we had considerable influence and leverage if we cared to use it effectively.
I am hoping that this report can be used in other forums around the region to spark discussion and debate. I want Southlanders to feel empowered in taking ownership of our economy and becoming unified behind a well considered regional plan that will enable us to have a sustainable and low carbon future.