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Murray Douglas - legacy of change

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kate de Lautour

After nearly five years as CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Murray Douglas has been credited with turning the membership organisation around , including raising its profile and activity. But perhaps his lasting legacy will be Business Hawke’s Bay, the region’s economic development hub, formally launched  in February.

When Venture Hawke’s Bay was quietly shut down in 2010, the region as a whole, was left without an economic rudder. The Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce board took the view that, like other regions, Hawke’s Bay needed an economic development agency ( EDA) to coordinate opportunities, respond to challenges and take a big picture view of what was required, in economic growth terms.

But how to make it work where others had failed? Finding the right answer Douglas says, was critical.

“Business Hawke’s Bay is fundamentally different because it is private sector led and at the end of the day only the private sector actually creates productive jobs.

“Having the private sector outlook has also moved us out of the limited term political cycles that were unhelpful.

“It is also integrated with the Chamber which means the resources and connection with the business community is completely congruent, because it is not about ‘them’ it is always ‘us’.”

Finally, and equally as important Douglas says, the organisation is fundamentally collaborative.

“For example we have all the council economic managers around the table at weekly advisory group meetings together with representatives from Food Hawke’s Bay, Hawke’s Bay Airport, MSD, NZTE and Hawke’s Bay Tourism.”

“The council resources can then be partnered with the private sector and it is a completely different paradigm from the old council driven entities that have all lacked focus”.

Eight months later, the collaborative model is “working superbly”.

“The councils are now undertaking work under the Business Hawke’s Bay brand and seem to ‘own ‘ it just like the rest of us – it’s a great outcome for Hawke’s Bay with a seamless sharing and support process.”

While the outcome is positive, Douglas says there’s an expectation that a single initiative or silver bullet can “fix” all the region’s economic challenges.

“This quick victory syndrome undermines many good ideas which are occurring but take time, effort and space to produce the long term structural changes necessary to see the benefits of change

“For example, skill development is not a quick fix and new businesses cannot be attracted overnight.

“Business Hawke’s Bay needs time to work on the structural adjustments necessary to see the benefits of change and if Hawke’s Bay can stay with the course,  there will be the chance to make changes that will deepen the economy, make it more diverse and successfully grow jobs.”