Auckland should be food technology hub

Auckland should be food technology hub

In this, the final of a series on cities which have re-invented themselves, we look at how Auckland should develop to join the ranks of the world's Magnet Cities.



Auckland had clearly made advances in physical renewal with the advent of the Viaduct, the Wynyard Quarter, Britomart and other advances revitalising the city centre.Auckland needs a bit of Bilbao - by making the best of its port - and a piece of Pittsburgh (by creating a new knowledge-based industry) to transform itself into one of the world's 'Magnet Cities'.

Simon Hunter, KPMG's partner in Auckland, says New Zealand's biggest city also needs to take on board lessons from another six magnet cities - as defined by a global KPMG study undertaken by Caroline Haynes and Vanessa Langley.

The study covers nine Magnet Cities - those that re-invent themselves and attract young wealth creators to boost growth. The others were Bilbao (Spain), Changwon (Korea), Denver, Incheon (Korea), Malmo (Sweden), Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Tel Aviv (Israel) and Christchurch - though the authors, initially impressed with the comeback after the quakes, felt progress had stalled there.

Hunter says each has demonstrated how to grow a prosperous city; the financial, social and environmental impacts are simply too big to ignore, showing Auckland what its city competitors will do to get in front.

Haynes, an economist and government advisor who also consults to Oxford University on its MSc in Sustainable Urban Development, was in New Zealand in June and October. The Magnet Cities study, focuses on cities previously in a spiral of decline but which switched "magnetic pull", turning their economy around from a negative push to a positive pull, with some revolutionary thinking.

A strong city identity, physical renewal, attracting young wealth-creating people, new ideas and links with academic institutions, connecting the city to other cities, fundraising and strong leadership are principles Haynes says are present in all Magnet City resurgences.

She says Auckland had clearly made advances in physical renewal with the advent of the Viaduct, the Wynyard Quarter, Britomart and other advances revitalising the city centre."There is a question mark over the port," she said. "To an outsider, it does seem odd to have the port dominating such a tremendous piece of real estate. Moving a port is not an easy feat - but it can be done; other cities have done exactly that."

One was Bilbao. Most people, when looking at Bilbao's resurgence from a near-death spiral in the 1980s caused by economic and industrial decay and pollution, attribute the turnaround to the advent of the world-famous Guggenheim Museum built during the transformation.

But the real impetus came from rescuing the Nervion river which flowed through the city. It accommodated the port, refineries, machining facilities and shipyards and the railway ran alongside - blocking access to the river, as did industrial buildings.

The river became an industrial sewer, eventually declared ecologically dead, before city fathers decided to revitalise the city by moving the port and rescuing the river.

All Bilbao's other recovery measures - a new airport, metro system and new industries to support the old ones moved outside the city - stemmed from the river clean-up and the removal of the port. Haynes says Pittsburgh - like Bilbao, a steel town which had fallen on hard times - revitalised itself through urban renewal and when the two main universities agreed to drive the city's economic renewal.

One attracted a world-leading transplant surgeon to the city, setting the scene for vast growth in the health research arena. The other lured a world leader in artificial intelligence who won global attention during the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown when one of his robots successfully penetrated the reactor to gather information.

Pittsburgh's ability to foster huge growth through the medical and knowledge sectors could be similarly applied in Auckland, she says - perhaps in the area of food technology, partnering with the universities to establish a campus dedicated to food technology, enhancing and developing what is already being done in food research in New Zealand.

"New Zealand has a great reputation and image as a producer of quality food. Use that and build on it. Auckland has a great reputation as a food and beverage city. Build on that, too - so you have a mini-magnet around which to build growth."

Auckland could encourage new business growth by attracting start-up accelerators, rather than incubators - the difference being that accelerators are mentored, managed and nurtured by venture capital companies themselves.

"The vast majority of incubated companies do not grow but when the VC companies are involved, they give the start-ups more credibility and impetus as well as funds. New Zealand might be a small market for venture capitalists but a new area like food technology and an accelerator formed between two or three of them to lessen the risk could well pay off."

Hunter says: "Auckland does not have a crisis [as Bilbao did] and, while it has momentum, it still feels like the hand-brake is on. These cities focused on the people they wanted and then made special things happen with input from many participants."

Orginally published in the NZ Herald

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