Growing a provincial town’s economy in the wake of COVID-19 is no easy task but Enterprise Great Lake Taupō is certainly up for the challenge.
The economic development agency was first established in 2007 and will this year embark on an ambitious workforce support programme to help local businesses and employees deal with the knock-on effects of the global pandemic.
One in three jobs in Taupō is tied directly, or indirectly, to the tourism sector and thousands of locals could potentially lose their jobs this year – if they haven’t done so already.
“We’ve got business advisers in Turangi, Mangakino and Taupō,” explains Enterprise Great Lake Taupō CEO Kylie Hawker-Green. “They help our business owners or managers navigate whatever it is that they’re dealing with. They might be wanting to grow their business or recruit new staff so we help them with their labour market needs. With COVID there’s been an awful lot of help needed in terms of planning, contingency, cashflow management, budgeting etc. So we’ve been very hands-on over the last 12 months.”
Small and medium-size businesses often find themselves at a crossroads and just need someone impartial and competent to bounce ideas off. “We don’t actually ‘do’ the doing, we just advise them and our service is completely free.”
The agency has been working for some time to help diversify and strengthen Taupō’s economy and COVID has provided further impetus to do just that. Taupō’s reputation as the centre for geothermal excellence is growing, with everyone from dairy factories to wood processing mills now using geothermal power instead of gas or coal.
“We’ve got a wonderful business here called Geo40 and they extract silica and lithium from geothermal fluid. So there’s an amazing array of other uses for that geothermal energy alongside power generation and those things all contribute to New Zealand’s carbon-free targets and is a real point of difference for us.”
Thanks to the agency’s efforts, over 100 businesses have relocated to the Taupō district in the past five years. “We help them get set up and established here so they can hit the ground running.”
The looming challenge of having to re-train some of the town’s workforce for jobs of the future is a big one. The agency has hired Tanya Stieglbauer to lead their new Taupō Workforce Support Network which is tasked with working alongside both businesses and job seekers.
“A big part of that work is about how can we support both sides of that coin - how can we best support the people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves out of work due to a COVID-related restructure or redundancy or business closure?” Kylie says.
“And then, how can we help our business owners navigate that process? Because it’s a horrible thing to do. And most of them have never had to deal with anything like that before. Most of our employers are really good people who want to do well by their staff and help them through that process but they don’t know where to go. Because we’re a smaller community we don’t have HR or recruitment agencies here. We don’t have some of that support network which you’d find in a larger city so we’re aiming to fill that gap.”
The new 12 month pilot project, which has received $35,000 from BayTrust to get started, will also examine what the future of work looks like in the town – what jobs will likely be available in Taupo and what help will locals need to transition into them?
“In a nutshell, we have to try and figure out how we can turn a barista into a digger driver. We know a lot of opportunities coming up will be in jobs for nature, so outdoor work, and then also construction and aligned fields. So how do we support our community to transition from being a tour boat guide to suddenly being a fencer or a drain layer?”
Kylie is extremely grateful for BayTrust’s financial support and describes the recent grant as a “game changer” in terms of being able to roll out the Taupō Workforce Support Network quickly and hire the staff required.
“It’s great that we’re able to actually deliver something that has been developed to suit what we need in our community right now. And having BayTrust’s support of that is really important. If we were going to try and build something like this alone, it could be up to 18 months before we got an outcome. So the responsiveness of BayTrust, and their willingness to support this kind of activity in our community, will really make all the difference.”