Retain talent to promote growth

Wellington needs to do more to retain its talented and creative people and to attract more of the same to the city.

That's the message I gave to a large audience at the Ignite function this week.

 Why?  Wellington's rate of economic growth is slow - just under the national average and as a country we aren't moving ahead economically. The latest unemployment and retail sales figures are just more evidence of that.

Low economic growth, or none at all, hurts everyone and makes all our decisions as a country harder. If the pie isn't growing, it means that for one group in society to have more, some other group has to do without or make do with less.

Growth makes all choices that much easier. I'm not talking ten percent a year like China, because obviously has its downsides too - damage to the environment being just one. But doubling our growth from one percent to two percent a year isn't going to wreck the city.

So what do we need to do? At Ignite I noted that we had lots of festivals, but these were centered around entertainment of various kinds. Where are the festivals that celebrate and stimulate brainpower and ideas, events that have some intellectual content? I am far from a wowser, so this is not an argument for 'instead of'. It is an argument for 'as well as'.

We make awards to the best baristas, our wonderful maitre d's, and the great cocktail makers. And so we should. But why not have awards for the person who has done most to increase excitement in the city, to stimulate growth, to increase the number of jobs? Again it's an 'as well as the other stuff' approach.

The logic is very simple. Growth comes from innovation, ideas and creativity. The people who come up with those ideas are attracted to places that excite their minds, bodies and souls. It's a bit intangible, but let's call it the vibe.

Wellington has a good vibe; we are the theatre capital, the coffee capital, the film centre, and we entertain ourselves and others through events. We also provide a good safe, clean physical environment with green open spaces, and that's all positive.

But creative people and the people who work with creative people are very mobile. Their businesses aren't like Fonterra or tourism; they are technological and entrepreneurial like Rakon and 4RF and the IT companies. They are not using our natural resources and aren't selling by using the green and pleasant land branding.

Those businesses and the people who work in them could be based anywhere. Wellington can't grow from manufacturing or government any more. We can grow through service industries like education, science and technology, IT, film, fashion and the like.

But then we are in competition with all the other cities in the same situation. That is why we have to fight harder than ever before. Our future prosperity is at stake here.