Regional Rundown: why talent is setting up shop in the Waikato

More than two million New Zealanders live outside Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and more are packing up for the regions each day.

A relaxing lifestyle, lower cost of living and strong sense of community are luring professionals from all fields, and strengthening the creative, collaborative and connected communities that cover our islands.

It’s given us Helen Clark, the Finn brothers, Dame Malvina Major, and Colin Meads, and its mascot is Mooloo the Cow. What’s not to love about the Waikato.

Housing the country’s fourth-largest city, our biggest lake and top tourist attraction, the most dairy farms in New Zealand and being a centre point of our settlement history, the Waikato is literally and metaphorically central to New Zealand’s identity.

With almost 500,000 residents and a GDP of $23 million (year ended March 2017) the region is diverse and bustling, but Sarah Brown of Legend in Taupo says despite the growth in the cities there remains a great sense of community.

“We’re all really supportive of each other and help each other where we can. Being a small town, you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re not a team player.”

The region has a number of unique traits such as the geothermal energy sector, and Brown says the team at Legend are lucky enough work with some of those local organisations.

Legend does a lot of work with local Iwi and Maori owned companies, which Brown says often have a unique way of working that can really challenge her approach for the better.

“Like the value of kaitiakitanga and how important it is to consider it in every business decision made,” she says.

Brown says there is a strong culture of businesses giving back to the community in the region, and there’s strong support for community groups.

Legend works with a number of clients across the region, the country, and overseas, and businesses that vary in size and scope. Clients include Miraka, Destination Great Lake Taupo, and Huka Honey Hive.

Brown says the big opportunities lie in partnerships with businesses that are new to the region, where they can work in collaboration on local and national business development.

She says for local audiences word of mouth is key, and the community engages with the two local newspapers and the radio stations, which are used by a number of local businesses. Just as importantly, she says, are businesses online and social presence.

“I think customers always like to support local when they can, so they always look to our local papers and radio stations for reputable news and updates. In that way, I think they’re more engaged than some city dwellers.”

Chris Williams at King St Advertising firm in Hamilton says the regional culture breeds hard-working, humble and very proud locals.

“We don’t do the flashy stuff and don’t talk too much about our achievements – just get on with it.

“There’s also amazing history here which brings a certain richness.”

And of course, he adds, there’s the rural sector that feeds people across the globe and has given rise to many manufacturing, technology and service businesses in the region.

Williams says the team at King St, which has been operating out of Hamilton and now Tauranga since 1999, doesn’t try to lure people to the regions, but finds talent that is already on the move.

He said those setting up shop tend to stay around a lot longer too, so long-term relationships can be built with clients. Those direct relationships mean it’s easier to get things done, and decision making, development and execution can be done a lot faster than in the big cities.

The team at King St use all marketing channels, with a strong emphasis on digital and social for some clients; outdoor and radio for others, and some rural specialists use more print.

The local media options have a good following, Williams says, and the local media staff have great relationships with their direct clients.

He adds the Waikato and Bay of Plenty are both growing very quickly with a mix of people – students, families, businesses and retirees. He says new imports are often surprised by the opportunities in the region and that everything can be done at a world-class level – “probably quicker and cheaper as well”.

Williams says King St has a strong national profile and is the first port of call when industry people move to the region, and the team there also has very strong relationships with the two education providers. Clients include the University of Waikato, Fieldays, Mystery Creek Events Centre, LIC, Dairy NZ, and Hamilton City Council.

The challenges his business faces in the region are the same as those faced by any other in the industry – attracting and retaining top talent, dealing with the changes in the media landscape, maintaining relationships and optimising resources.

“As long as we stay true to our vision and work with clients who are the right fit for us culturally, we will continue to prosper,” he says.

And they’ll continue to that from the rich plains of middle New Zealand (with The Lord of the Rings Shire not far off).

The Regional Rundown series will explore the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa, Nelson/Marlborough, and Otago regions. To read the profiles, click here.

This story is part of a content partnership with News Works.

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