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The Influencers: Leeann Watson


 

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

In the last few weeks, we saw the nation collectively holding its breath as it became apparent that our border control and testing regime was not as rigorous as we thought.
It was incredibly disappointing to hear about some people entering the country then disappearing off the radar. New Zealanders have lost lives, jobs and businesses due to COVID-19 – and taxpayers will be re-paying the Government’s borrowed money for at least a generation. If those coming back are not meeting their obligations in respect of self-isolation or quarantine, then there does need to be consequences.
New Zealanders need to have confidence that our border controls, quarantining, testing and contact tracing processes are robust and reliable. We cannot afford to be in a position where we have to return to lockdown.
With today’s access to technology where information can be easily and systematically collected to help manage these risks and reduce human error, then that should be happening.
Businesses will need to continue to access highly skilled people from offshore to help with – for example – maintenance of specialised equipment to ensure that critical network infrastructure is not degraded. Similarly, there will be economic opportunities in areas such as tertiary education. We also want to continue to push for a trans-Tasman bubble to help boost our tourism sector.
In order to do this, we all need to have confidence in the process, because the crippling economic and social costs of another lockdown is incomprehensible given what our team of five million has been through and given up.

 


 

The Influencers: Leeann Watson


 

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

Over the last few months, we have seen a collective, community response to COVID-19.

We have all stayed home, maintained social distancing, handwashed and sanitised for our own health as well as the health of others in our community.

With the curve flattened, now is the time to look at what we can all do to promote the good health of our local business community and the livelihoods of those same people.

There are various ways of doing this, such as shopping local, with consumers supporting businesses.

There is an opportunity too for businesses to support other businesses through purchasing goods and services locally, as well as advocating for local and central Government procurement of New Zealand made products and services where the funds go back into our local and national economy, not offshore.

There is also the concept of ‘buying forward’ – buying shop vouchers, a card for ten coffees or a meal, or paying for a future car service or hair appointment now – to help stimulate the economy and generate cashflow for the businesses that so desperately need it.
This is particularly important in Canterbury given the challenging operating environment businesses have faced in the last decade.

It’s not just the financial livelihood of our community that this will help, it’s also the mental health of those around us.

We know that regular employment also provides structure and routines, a sense of purpose and worth, networks and connections that play a key role in the overall wellbeing of our community, and role modelling for our future generations and workforce.


 

The Influencers: Leeann Watson


 

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

In the last few months, we have seen unprecedented change, with health, social and economic impacts on a scale that no-one could have predicted.

But make no mistake, businesses in Waitaha Canterbury are innovative, resilient and adept to responding to disruption.

Over the last few decades, we have demonstrated our determination, agility and ability to respond quickly to a changing business environment and are again showing our mettle by pivoting on our product and service offering to adapt to this ‘new normal’.

One local high-end fashion designer is making face masks; a furniture restorer is producing hand sanitiser; an IT company now specialises in setting up ‘click and collect’ services; an events company has taken a step-change to provide deliveries.

We are conscious that the impact of COVID-19 may simply be too much for some businesses who have already exhausted any reserves they had in re-establishing themselves post-earthquakes, however I believe Canterbury is best placed with the structures and processes in place to ride out these challenging times.

At The Chamber we are doing everything we can to support local businesses – and those throughout the South Island through our 0800 50 50 96 COVID-19 business helpline – and are actively engaging with central and local government to advocate for further support.

It is hard to predict what our future will look like.

What we do know is that while the changes we are seeing across our whole community and economy are unprecedented, we have come through adversity before and we will do so again. Kia kaha.


 

The Influencers: Leeann Watson


Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

We all know climate change is the biggest environmental issue facing our planet, so what changes can we make locally to make a difference globally?

Some people have chosen to make their contribution by switching to electric vehicles (EVs).

While these aren’t a new invention, today’s versions continue to evolve due to significant technological developments.

In fact, automaker Volvo says half of its vehicles will be electric by 2025; Ford says a third of its offering will be electric by 2030.

Hopefully, as EVs become more mainstream, the pricing will also become more affordable.

In Ōtautahi, more than half of our carbon emissions come from transportation, so a switch to EVs is another way in which we can help reduce greenhouse emissions.

Combined with the fact that 85 percent of our electricity is renewable, the sustainability story behind EVs continues to evolve.

The Chamber is working in partnership with Orion to offer businesses the opportunity to test drive one of the latest EVs for a week, the new Hyundai Kona.

The initiative has been so popular that the vehicles are already booked well into 2021.

Orion is also installing vehicle chargers across the region, keeping EV users close to plug-in sources – we even have one in our Chamber carpark!

This complements Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods’ recent announcement about the EECA Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund, which is investing to help establish a network of over 1000 EV charging stations nationwide.


 

The Influencers: Leeann Watson


The last year was one of steady evolution. There was the release of a Government Budget focused on wellbeing, as well as the announcement of a $7.5 billion surplus. There was also the reversal on the tabling of a capital gains tax.

 

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

There were various changes to employment legislation, with Fair Pay Agreements one of the more highly publicised issues through the year. Immigration was also in the spotlight, with changes to employer-assisted temporary work visa settings.

There were the local body elections, and the appointment of a new Chief Executive, which we hope will provide a fresh burst of energy for the council to gain traction on key issues and developments this year.

In the education sector, the big news was the launch of the Reform of Vocational Education, which aims to encourage collaboration between the business community and education providers to ensure we have a fit-for-purpose future workforce.

As we stride into the New Year, I think we will see more of these ‘big picture’ issues being addressed, largely driven by the 2020 general election.
With low unemployment rates – and interest rates – and a housing market that is starting to turn, the economy may not be such a big issue and other key drivers, such as the future of work and climate change will really come to the fore.

I look forward to a transformational year ahead and helping to shape Canterbury as a vibrant, dynamic region that supports local businesses and provides a strong quality of life and community outcomes for all.

 


 

The Influencers: Leeann Watson


As this is my last Metropol column of the year, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight an initiative that is very close to my heart.

 

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

In my role at The Chamber, I have seen first-hand the great work and outcomes that our many charities provide to those in need in our city.

This year I am pleased to lend my voice to the Bayleys Plate Up for a Purpose campaign, which challenges local chief executives to raise $5000 each, culminating in a memorable evening of fun and food at the Town Hall on 29 February. At this event we will join forces with top Canterbury chefs to cater a three-course dinner for 180 people!

The funds raised will go towards the Christchurch City Mission’s Back to School programme, which pays $300,000 a year towards the school costs of children from families who struggle with the significant financial outlay at the start of the school year. This gives these kids the resources they need to start the new year and – most importantly – the confidence to fit in with their peers and stay in school, helping to give every child in Canterbury the chance to get the education they need to succeed.

The Christchurch City Mission is not alone – there are so many amazing organisations in our community that need our help. As we head into the holiday break, I would encourage all of you to do something (regardless of how small) to help create a positive impact in our community.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Leeann Watson: The Influencers


We were so excited to bring the Westpac Champion Business Awards to Canterbury once again – and what a night it was!

 

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

Both of our Supreme Winners demonstrate the innovation and adaptability Canterbury has become known for – Ethique aims to rid the cosmetics industry of plastic bottles and make beauty eco-friendly; TASKA produces the world’s first waterproof myoelectric prosthetic hand, designed to restore ability and confidence for amputees worldwide.

These organisations aren’t just leading the way in our city or even our country – they are world-leading, and we’re proud to have them as Canterbury businesses.

The black-tie event was delivered to over 1100 members of the business community and regarded as the best awards yet – no small feat considering it was our 17th year.

We were also delighted to present special awards to Anton Matthews from FUSH who was recognised with the Emerging Business Leader Award for his dedication to revitalising te reo in Ōtautahi, and also a Special Commendation to Bruce Irvine who has given so much to the city and our region through his commitment to business, governance, the arts and his philanthropic generosity.

Category winners included Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters, Christchurch Engine Centre, Tuatara Structures, Barker Fruit Processors Ltd, The New Zealand Merino Company Limited, Ethique, YWCA Christchurch, The Christchurch City Mission, Medsalv, RuralCo, Canterbury District Health Board, and TASKA Prosthetics.

These organisations reinforce our positioning of Ōtautahi as a city of opportunity and innovation.

 

 

 

 


 

Hospitality sector hungry for visitors: Chamber of Commerce


One of the aspects of our rebuilt city that is so exciting for locals and visitors is our amazing array of eateries. We are spoilt for choice, with almost every kind of cuisine and style of eating imaginable. I also love seeing the imagination and innovation that has gone into some of the fit-outs to rival even the most ‘foodie’ of city landscapes overseas.

 

 

In a sector that typically operates at a 10-15 percent margin, the pressure of increased compliance costs, climbing overheads such as ongoing rates increases and the recent compulsory minimum wage jump (equating to a 7 percent impact) have all put the financial squeeze on local hospitality business owners.

The large number of new eateries in Canterbury also has the double-edged sword of increased competition, with StatsNZ putting the total number of food and beverage services at 1,638 in 2018. Almost every new space being developed seems to have some sort of hospitality outlet as a cornerstone of its development. While that’s great for consumers, it provides a challenging operating environment for business owners.

If we want to retain the vibrancy of this key sector and draw the volume of people we need, the bottom line is we need reasons to entice people into the central city including regular large-scale events. Promotions such as the locally focused ‘Baby Come Back’ and the wider national activation from Air New Zealand inviting New Zealanders to ‘Explore Something New in Christchurch’ can only go so far in terms of increasing domestic and international visitation and spending – we need a calendar of big events and local activations to provide a tangible reason for visiting our city more than once.

Ed Sheeran’s concert in Dunedin over the 2018 Easter break resulted in an addition of almost $38m to Dunedin’s economy. While this was one of the city’s biggest weekends in terms of economic impact, it just shows the heights we could scale to. Christchurch recently hosted music legend Phil Collins, which drew over 25,000 fans, including 15,000 from out of the city, generating over 24,700 visitor nights and injecting $5.8m into the local economy.

But it’s not just about the music. There are also huge opportunities in terms of playing host to key international sporting events. The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 was the first major international event to be held in Christchurch since the earthquakes, with the opening event, opening match and a further two pool matches giving us the opportunity to once again shine on the international stage.

The event was the most popular Cricket World Cup and one of the most watched sporting events in history based on a combination of attendance, television audience and, most significantly, digital media – it was the third largest international sporting event ever in terms of digital reach and was also broadcast to an estimated television audience of 1.56 billion people according to the Cricket World Cup 2015 Ltd PWC final report.

Large events do wonders for the economy – not to mention the positive positioning of Christchurch as a city of exploration and opportunity providing residents, including our young people, with interesting and engaging activities. This should be an easy win; we already have the hospitality and accommodation providers ready to go, they are just being underutilised. I look forward to 2020 being the year that really makes the most of this huge opportunity.

 

 

By Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Leeann Watson

 


 

Leeann Watson

Leeann Watson: The Influencers


Education been in the spotlight in recent months – and a shake-up of the sector has been long overdue.

 

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

The most significant development has been the decision on the Review of Vocational Education (RoVE), with 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics to be merged into the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST) from 1 April 2020, and a handful of Workforce Development Councils to be created.

We look forward to seeing greater collaboration between training providers and the business community to ensure training is fit for purpose and aligned with the skills needed by the industry now and into the future, and to support economic growth, taking into account regional nuances. With the announcement of the NZIST Establishment Board being based in Christchurch, this invites an opportunity to present a strong business case to house the national head office in Christchurch, creating over 100 jobs and reinforcing our position as a national centre for education and innovation.

It’s also imperative we focus on lifelong learning and integrated education that responds to the changing nature of work. That’s why we welcomed the Government’s recent announcement of an additional $14.5 million to the employer-led workplace literacy and numeracy fund – bringing its total contribution to $45 million over the next four years.

Lifelong learning gives employees the opportunity to continue with personal development, enabling them to step into higher-level roles or learn new skills to carry them through different jobs and industries. It also enables the employer to increase productivity meaning that re-training and re-deployment is a priority now more than ever.

 

 

 


 

Now is the time to get involved


It’s shaping up to be an exciting local body election in Christchurch. There are a number of contenders for the mayoralty race, which is producing some lively debate. We hope that this will also translate to more people having their say at the polling booths.

 

 

In 2016, just 38 percent of people eligible to vote in Christchurch did so. This reflects a general downward trend in voter turnout for local government elections. Throughout the country, voter turnout for local elections was only a little higher at 42 percent.

Compare this to parliamentary elections in 2017, where turnout was almost 75 percent. So why is there less interest and engagement in local body elections? Given the potential impact on our lives in terms of provision of services and shaping public policy, it could be argued that local government has a much more direct impact.

My guess is that a lack of interest is fuelled by the unknown factor. People just don’t know who is running or what they stand for. Local candidates don’t have the same campaign budget as our national governing parties – but they do have presence. So I would encourage candidates to voice their views and for residents to get behind the process by asking the tough questions of their candidates.

As an Employers’ Chamber, we are interested in hearing about what candidates will do to support local businesses and enable economic growth in the region. In particular, what candidates will set out to achieve at a practical, tangible level, beyond just big picture aspirations.

Asset management is one of the issues that has been around for a while now and it’s one that we keep returning to – so this will be top of our question list for candidates. Clutching on to the old ways of doing things will only get us so far; we need to look at new innovative ways of doing things differently, such as bringing partners on board for strategic collaborations.

The current council has also done well to put the central city in the spotlight. As the heart of our region, we need to ensure that our future council understands the gravity of getting it right. So what do candidates think should be done to further promote economic activity in the CBD?

The vision in the Long Term Plan was Christchurch as a place of opportunity for all – a place that is open to new ideas, new people and new ways of doing things; a place where anything is possible. But where is the tangible plan to align this with reality?

It also comes down to communication. People need to know what’s happening – or not happening – and why. The local community needs confidence to know that we are being kept in the loop and the certainty that our rates and taxes are being spent wisely and well.

We are so fortunate to have a strong democratic process that we owe it to ourselves to make the most of it. Have a say. Voice your opinion. Ask the tough questions. And above all, vote. Our local government should represent our community, but that won’t happen if we don’t involve ourselves in the process. Now is the time that you can make a difference.

 

By Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Leeann Watson