Venture Southland is a unique organisation in New Zealand. As a regional development hub jointly supported by the Invercargill City Council, the Southland District Council, the Gore District Council and Environment Southland it has grown in capability and effectiveness over the years. Most regions have organisations that promote the economic activity that already exist but Venture Southland has gone well beyond that concept. It has developed into a highly effective think tank that has completed a detailed assessment of the regions resources and is actively looking at future proofing the Southland economy based on sustainable development.
The Southland Energy Strategy published in 2011 is superior than anything I have seen produced in New Zealand and the current National Government has nothing as comprehensive. While the rapid growth of dairying has had a hugely negative impact on Southland's fresh water systems and the potential closure of the Tiwai Smelter threatens the local economy, Venture Southland has been working tirelessly to develop alternative and more sustainable industries and manage the worst effects of existing ones.
Here is a list of some of their achievements and ongoing work:
- The Awarua Rocket Tracking Station has connected the region into international space programmes and has brought in $1 million dollars of investment and scientific expertise.
- Venture Southland gained Government support for its strategy to convert coal and lignite boilers and heating systems to ones using wood waste. This involved ensuring long term supply (at least 2050) and providing the technical knowledge to help with the transition. The Invercargill swimming pool, local businesses and many schools have made the shift already.
- Oat milk has been identified as a highly marketable commodity and Southland has one of the best environments in the world for growing oats. Given those who are lactose intolerant in the world and who want dairy alternatives, potential for this product is huge and the environmental impact of the industry will be less than dairy.
- Venture Southland identified the extent of methane emissions from dairy ponds around the region and, rather than allowing these to add to our greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, is looking at capturing the gas as an energy source for farms.
- The difficulties of managing the environmental impacts of farming and its importance to the local economy is a difficult one, but the Lean Project looks at improving the profitability of businesses through more sustainable practices.
- Venture Southland is also has a leadership role in supporting community groups, tourism and cultural activities (arts and busking festivals etc).
Despite the fact that Venture Southland has been so successful and is well regarded outside the region, many within Southland are unaware of its importance and effectiveness. VS devotes all its energies into promoting others and does little to promote itself. Consequently many have questioned the amount of ratepayers money is going to the 34 Venture staff and their activities.
The Southland District Council clearly have little understanding of the value of the organisation they helped create and fund and are proposing to withdraw a community development team from VS and set up their own independent one. This could create a dangerous precedent because if other councils decide to do similar it will seriously reduce the capability and effectiveness of VS and we will lose something that is the envy of many other regions.
When one compares the value that taxpayers get from the extravagant palace that houses the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment compared to the tiny team working out of the humble Art Deco building in Spey Street, Invercargill, it is clear that there is no competition. The MBIE has delivered little for regional development and Southland is used getting on with the job of showing the rest of the country what is possible with foresight, good planning and using local talent.
I hope my letter to the Southland Times today will encourage more to come out in support of Venture Southland and appreciate the value we get from our amazing local team:
I was concerned to read on the front page of the Southland Times (September 29) that the Southland District Council is considering withdrawing a community development team from Venture Southland.
Venture Southland is probably the most effective economic and community development hubs in the country. I often organise visiting MPs to meet with the Venture team to see what is possible when a region’s councils pool resources to support regional development. All have been highly impressed and there has been interest in replicating the Venture model across the country. The West Coast in particular would benefit from a similar organisation.
One of the advantages of Venture Southland is the collegial culture and crosspollination that occurs when those leading economic, community and cultural activities learn from each other. The success of Venture’s many projects can often be attributed to the collective knowledge of Southland communities and the relationships that have been established within the organisation and across the region.
The removal of even one element from the Venture Southland team is likely to reduce the effectiveness of the organisation as a whole. I would have thought there would be more value in building even more capacity in the existing team than removing them completely and expecting them to operate successfully in an independent and isolated environment.
I hope that the Southland District Council will recognize the advantages of the current model in their deliberations and look towards adding value rather than dismantling what is actually working well.