It's been a busy few weeks as WPMA continues with the 2018 Regional Meeting schedule. We've just held events in Nelson, Christchurch and Invercargill. These well-attended meetings are an excellent opportunity to catch up with members on specific regional manufacturing issues. They are also a good time to talk about how this intersects with what WPMA is doing at the national level. This approach coincides with the coalition government's top priority to create better economic growth and well-being through targeted action in the regions.
So what are we seeing regionally? In short, an industry that is running flat out to keep up with product demand but facing intense competition for raw material. In Nelson we heard about investments in wood processing backed by better certainty around log supply and great news that new investors in forests in the region are looking to provide even greater surety of log supply to local businesses. All this topped off by a new airport build that is looking to be a perfect showcase for the region's wood manufacturing prowess - an airport that Nelsonians can be truely proud of.
In Christchurch we heard about the very recent merger of two major wood manufacturing plants into one company creating not just scale but better access to raw material and technology. We also heard how the design and engineering community of Canterbury are taking New Zealand wood-based construction technology around the world. Ditto in Invercargill - where members are making substantial investments in new technologies and processes in order to sustain a presence in markets here and overseas.
What we are ground-truthing here is what central government statistics are clearly showing - that we are streets ahead of the rest of NZ manufacturing and the wider economy in terms of productivity. If you attended the recent Forestwood Conference you will have seen the NZ Institute of Economic Research presenting these stats - we are impressive on paper. Despite these striking stats, a member observed: "yes we are making all of these investments, but why do I have the feeling of being 40-0 down at half time? The Regional Meetings discussed this.
The short answer we came up with is that we are doing our bit to stay ahead of the competition but it's now time for the other half of Team NZ, the government, to reveal its hand here and show us how they are going to help manufacturers. Government was very clear from day one that growing the wood industry in the regions is top priority. One Billion Trees has been the focus to date but the question is what does the government have up its sleeve for manufacturers? What government does in this space is critical because when you look overseas it is very clear that it is government that ultimately shapes industrial advantage. As manufacturers, we are playing as a first class 7's team....the problem is we are always up against the full 15.
The message from the wood manufacturers of Nelson, Canterbury, Southland and Otago is that we are doing our bit to build the regional economy. So, government, when are you coming on to the field? The battle for logs is still intense and, as Team NZ, surely we need to be pulling together to make the most of this raw material in creating regional jobs and prosperity?
WPMA also presented on its Timber Design Guides project and got excellent feedback from members and the design community on this initiative. The demand is clearly there. The challenge is that the scope of the project just keeps widening! As does the demand for skills, with Competenz on hand to set out how they are assisting industry to meet their changing needs for training.
We now move on to Northland on 3rd July.
Thanks to all those attending the meetings and special thanks to W & R Jack, Competenz and Scion for sponsorship.
Dr Jon Tanner