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Te Waka to cease operating as independent economic development agency

A lack of collective regional commitment and inadequate resource means the country’s smallest economic development agency is unable to continue to deliver on growing stakeholder expectations and the needs of Aotearoa’s fourth largest region over the next three years.

Prompted by business, community and stakeholder discussions held throughout the current long term planning process for Councils, the Board of Directors of Te Waka - the Waikato’s regional Economic Development Agency - has undertaken a review of its ability to continue to deliver value to the region and to meet growing expectations through its next three-year local government-led funding cycle.

The Board believes that to be viable and credible, and to continue to have impact in such a high-growth region, Te Waka must operate as an independent entity, with:

  1. Collective commitment to, and regional unity around, its mandate from local government, business and Iwi/Māori;
  2. The freedom to operate on a focused, long-horizon workplan;
  3. Sufficient funding to enable the organisation to deliver both to the needs of a diverse rapidly-growing region and to adequately meet growing stakeholder expectations.

Following the review, the Board has concluded that these conditions are not in place and has decided that Te Waka will cease operating as an independent entity at the end of its current financial year (30 June 2024). 

Chair of Te Waka, Hamish Bell, noted, “The decision to cease operating was not taken lightly given the significance of the Waikato region to the New Zealand economy, and the importance of collaboration within and across regions, particularly in the current economic climate.”

Noting that despite continuing support from business for the regional economic leadership delivered by Te Waka and from Te Waka’s two major funders (Waikato Regional Council and Hamilton City Council), “The brutal reality is that as the smallest economic development agency in New Zealand, we no longer have the collective mandate nor the resource to continue to operate independently and to deliver in the impactful way we believe the region needs and deserves.

“The Waikato is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, with substantial opportunities for even greater economic growth. It is a great shame that the region cannot emulate the collective mandate and resource delivered by other regions in New Zealand to support a regional economic development strategy, and that Te Waka is unable to build off the solid foundation created over the last six years.” 

He added, “We remain strong and passionate advocates for regional economic development. We have urged our local council stakeholders to review existing economic development arrangements – both within councils and across the region – and establish an approach that can support growth across the entire region.”

Bell added, “Te Waka has also consistently pushed for regional unity, and proactively lobbied for regionally focused entities that deliver on economic outcomes to consolidate so we can maximise regional success. These remain two critical issues needing to be urgently addressed within the region.”

Te Waka is the lowest-funded economic development agency in New Zealand with the smallest number of employees, yet has the broadest region to support, with 11 different territorial local authorities in its scope and a geographically wide area.

During the last long-term planning cycle of Councils, Te Waka presented a plan to the region’s 11 Mayors to modestly scale up its activities. That proposal was rejected, so Te Waka has operated on a limited basis for the last three years. Despite this, Te Waka has delivered against key elements of its focused strategy and has met the key accountability criteria set by Council funders.

The Te Waka Board acknowledges the support it has had from local government, businesses, Iwi/Māori and other partners over the six years since its inception. It also acknowledged the work of those involved in Te Waka’s precursor ‘Waikato Means Business’ in particular the businesses who had continued to financially and operationally support Te Waka.

Bell concluded, “Te Waka is proud of what it has achieved; and on behalf of the Board, I would like to acknowledge our CEO Fiona Carrick and GM of Economic Development, Rosie Spragg, along with many others who have served tirelessly on the team and the Board for the service they have given to the Waikato.”

The company remains solvent and the Directors will now work towards cessation of operations by 30 June 2024 and an orderly wind up in the normal course to follow.

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