Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley is heading the lastest New New Zealand Forum in Hawke's Bay next week.

‘Muscular regionalism’ tipped for Hawke’s Bay’s future  


Demographic transformation is having a major impact on New Zealand’s regions – including Hawke’s Bay – and could be the basis for building a new form of “muscular regionalism”, says a Massey University researcher.

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, a sociologist and media commentator on population, migration and employment issues, will be joined by colleagues as well as local business, community and youth leaders at the New New Zealand Forum in Hastings next Monday.

Professor Spoonley will share findings from his recent research on demographic changes for New Zealand regions. These include the effects of an increase in the aging population, and what options these changes might offer for economic and social development.

Growing the “silver” economy to meet the needs of the increasing ageing population is a key priority, he says. So is forging more collaboration between business, and education and training providers to ensure school leavers and job seekers have the relevant skills and knowledge, he adds.

While the proportion of people aged 65-plus will double to 20 per cent of the population over the next decade in Hawke’s Bay, the relative size of the younger cohort will decrease.

This trend is further emphasised by the departure from Hawke’s Bay of late teens and those aged 20-39 years as they seek higher education or employment elsewhere, says Professor Spoonley.

Migration – another factor – is critical, partly to supplement population stagnation and aging, and partly to recruit skills, he adds.

“The key point is that Hawke’s Bay is facing a very different future because of the demographic changes that are underway.”

He says the key to creating what he terms “muscular regionalism” and coming up with workable solutions is “to understand how important these changes are – for service provision, for employment and as underpinning economic growth”.

Dramatic though these changes appear, there are positive outlooks and options. “Why not address the issues with innovative options? Immigration policy settings address national needs but why shouldn’t Hawke’s Bay develop a more pro-active – even aggressive – approach to attracting immigrants?”

Associate Professor Richard Shaw, head of the Politics Programme in Massey’s School of People, Environment and Planning, will discuss how the region might respond to the regional challenges resulting from demographic changes.

“One place we can go is the OECD which, following the global financial crisis has done extensive research trying to understand what works – and what doesn't – in attempts beef up regional economies.”

He says human capital is central. “Specifically, reducing the proportion of people with low skills seems to matter more than increasing the number with very high skills.”

But population density is not necessarily strongly associated with higher growth, he adds. “Simply putting large numbers of people in close proximity won’t solve the problem.”

Another strategy to enhancing economic growth is to redesign political institutions and governance arrangements.  “This can have a major bearing on success,” Dr Shaw says. “Many cities and regions are still trying to use 19th century local boundaries and 20th century forms of government to shape and develop a 21st century global economy.”

The forum will be introduced by Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey and will conclude with a panel discussion on the research findings. Participants include Mayor Lawrence Yule (Hastings District Council and Local Government New Zealand President); Andrew Austin (Editor, Hawke’s Bay Today); Craig Foss (National Member of Parliament for Tukituki); Stuart Nash (Labour Member of Parliament for Napier); Meka Whaitiri (Laboour Member of Parliament for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti) and Max Cooper, School Leader, Havelock North High School.

Mr Maharey, Professor Spoonley and Dr Shaw will host the next New New Zealand Forum in New Plymouth on July 30.


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