"Perfect Timing"

11 Apr 2018
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WPMA held its Regional Meeting in Gisborne last week in conjunction with Activate Tairawhiti and talk about perfect timing......
We arrived in Gisborne the day before, as Mayor Meng Foon told the meeting,  that Gisborne District Council would formally adopt a Wood First Policy.  The second local authority in the country to do this. Fantastic news. Mayor Foon acknowledged the lead he had taken from Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick (aka NZ Wood's "Wood Warrior" Award winner in 2016) and said that "he absolutely knew he was on to a good thing".  We now look forward to this local government, pro-wood trend growing from the bottom up and then meeting the central government's wood encouragement policies coming from the top down.  As was widely agreed at the 2018 Forestwood Conference in Wellington in March, there is definitely a buzz in the the air in NZ when it comes to the wood industry.  A buzz that that has not been heard in a long while and a buzz that is loudest in the regions.  We have just got to make sure that [chainsaw] buzz turns NZ logs in to NZ jobs....and that, in Gisborne, is the task of Steve Breen, CEO of Activate Tairawhiti and the man now holding the wood first directive from the Gisborne Council.  Best of luck Steve - as you pointed out on the day: only 20% of Gisborne's logs are processed in the region and you want to see a big turnaround in this figure.  We understand that a new, wood-rich airport is on the cards for Gisborne - watch out for competition Nelson!
Aiding and abetting this turnaround we heard from a new wood processing business in the region: W.E.T. (Wood Engineering Technology) who have gone into partnership with the Eastland Community Trust to form WET Gisborne Ltd.  Shaun talked about the urgent need for the wood industry to recognise the huge potential in new residential growth in NZ, the need to front-foot it in the market in competition with the steel and concrete sectors and that the only way to do this was through much greater application of high technology to the sector.  He observes that the prevailing dog-eat-dog mentality is not breeding greater sector productivity and that value chains need to adapt fast.
Bryce Heard was on hand to tell us how Rotorua had developed and ratified its Wood First Policy in 2014.  In the same way that Gisborne had been inspired by Rotorua, Rotorua in turn had taken its lead from British Columbia.  In all cases the key to developing a successful Wood First Policy was to first create a culture for wood - a culture we now need to re-find in NZ. Creating a culture for wood would also help encourage people to join the industry and to train.  Sam McNaughton from Competenz made the point that 56% of workers in the NZ wood sector had no post school qualifications.  Given that statistic you can already see the training challenge needed to support an even higher technology-centric industry in future.  It doesn't matter which manufacturing sector you look at in NZ the skills shortages are stark - one of the reasons the WPMA has joined up with the NZ Manufacturing Industry Alliance to draw government attention to the specific skills needs of NZ large-scale manufacturers.
Government enthusiasm for the sector continues in spades.  Fletcher Tabuteau from NZ First had been looking at wood industry developments in Gisborne on the day and told us that he was very excited by what he saw.  Importantly, he recognised the need to empower the entrepreneurs running wood processing businesses in NZ - not second-guess them.  In other words, get the background conditions right for growth in the regions because it is the regions that generate the wealth.  Fletcher said that Cabinet was well aware of the difficulties we were facing trying to compete against overseas subsidies and recognised that we saw the solution in getting other countries to play fair in our own log supply marke.  As you are all very much aware, this is a major work in progress for WPMA.   (Gisborne Herald news - click here: Government has heard us and Adding value to our wood)

A big thanks to our sponsors for the day W & R Jack, Scion and Competenz.  
The WPMA Regional Meetings now roll south: on to Nelson in May (date tbd) then to Christchurch and Invercargill.
Look out for an announcement of dates and see you there!


Dr Jon Tanner
Chief Executive 

Presentations available from this meeting:

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