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Science for the City
In the face of a protracted national economic downturn and cuts to the Government sector, how does Wellington create much-needed jobs? And how do we reverse the trend of the last fifty years, which has seen New Zealanders working harder than most but slipping in per capita income from a leading position in the 1950s?
In “Wool to Weta”, the late Sir Paul Callaghan made a compelling case for high-technology businesses. More recently, we have seen Professor Shaun Hendy launch the cleverly-named, “Get off the Grass”, co-authored with Sir Paul, which discusses innovation and the development of a knowledge economy. If we are successful, this will not only create jobs, it will provide higher levels of revenue per employee than, for example, service jobs. This will allow us to develop greater wealth, without compromising our environment.
So what does this mean for Wellington? We have three great advantages: a well-educated work force, a city and stunning natural environment that attract talented people, and top-class research institutions full of people with good ideas.
Council is too small to do everything on its own, and partnerships are vital to success. Links between the city and the research organisations are developing well. In the recent earthquakes, GNS Science was to the fore in helping us to understand the cause of the quakes, the immediate hazard, and the long-term implications. And Victoria University is collaborating with Council to research resilience, ecology and the urban environment, with one feature being student internships at Council over summer.
It is imperative that the research community and the city work even more closely together, to develop opportunities that will lead to well-paying jobs and to the growth of supporting industries. Council must strengthen links with the several world-class research organisations within the Wellington region, to ensure that Councillors and Council staff are familiar with the background science and research of economic, social, cultural, and environmental issues.
Council must support the work of the regional economic development agency, “Grow Wellington”, to facilitate better links between researchers and business. And, ultimately, Council must provide financial support, perhaps as grants, to help develop our city’s knowledge economy.