Competitiveness is often in the news these days. Individuals compete for jobs, companies for market share, cities for tourist dollars, and countries on any number of performance indicators. Governments devise strategies to promote economic growth that have global competitiveness at their heart. Yet, surprisingly, there is a great deal of confusion about what competitiveness actually entails. Without knowing how the machine works, policymakers are liable to pull the wrong levers.
Evidence suggests that this may have been happening in New Zealand. We rank highly on international indices measuring the key drivers of growth, for example, but our economy continues to perform poorly. Academic Phillip McCann called this puzzling phenomenon New Zealand’s “ Productivity Paradox”.
In this issue of the Business Review, Tony Caughey, co-author of Upgrading New Zealand’s Competitive Advantage, warns that the government’s Business Growth Agenda will do nothing to lift us from the rut of “merely average” economic performance. There are lessons to be learned, he says, in Auckland Council’s new goal-oriented Economic Development Strategy and in the worldwide success of cluster development programmes.
Lauren Smith, Jorge Seaman and Siah Hwee Ang put the case for developing just such an industry cluster to exploit marine energy – one of the world’s largest untapped sources of renewable energy. Creating a marine centre of expertise in New Zealand could unlock an ocean of opportunity, they say.
Alan Hughes points out the dangers of formulating innovation policies based on mistaken assumptions about what really underpins economic growth in other countries. Armed with the results of several large overseas research projects, he calls for a new understanding of the role that universities play in fostering innovation.
David Simmons and Ray Sleeman turn their attention to reviving tourism in quake-hit Christchurch. Once worth $2.3 billion annually to the region, tourism is considered vital to the city’s recovery. Their proposal: create an iconic new attraction to compete for visitors, and reposition Christchurch as a destination, not a “gateway”.
Finally, Peter Withers surveys the current state of executive education, concluding that many programmes are no longer fit for purpose and, indeed, are fast becoming irrelevant. In a global environment governed by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, it is the nations that develop expertise in decision-making and strategic thinking that will remain competitive and prosper, says Withers. He finds promising signs in a radical rethink now underway in New Zealand.
Competitiveness is far from straightforward. There is no single accelerator to rev economic performance; no policy shortcut to get there more quickly. But some things have been shown to help. Having clear and measurable goals, for example, and commercialising innovation. Systematically supporting industries capable of carving out global niches, and delivering the sort of education that equips tomorrow’s business leaders to thrive in a globalised world. Playing the winning game is not rocket science. But it does require qualities that, as a nation, we have yet to bring convincingly to the pitch.
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