REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT A Shore Thing – Why business looks greener on the other side of the bridge

Oil troubles triggered in Nigeria, Iran or China may seem like far cry from the safe suburbs of North Shore City. But they are just one of number of pressures that are pushing the residents, business folk and council members to appreciate the benefits of life, leisure and business on the less harried side of Auckland’s Harbour Bridge.
The North Shore has been blessed with strong economic indicators for while now. Its population growth has consistently outstripped the national average. By June last year, its head count had hit the 212,000 mark and looked set to stretch closer to 255,000 by 2021. More to the point, the city contains greater than average proportion of working age people and enjoys higher than average rate of home ownership.
This, according to economic development agency Enterprise North Shore, may reflect the fact that North Shore people are more likely to be employed and are on average better paid than elsewhere in the country. Certainly, between 1991 and 1996, for example, the number of full-time jobs in the region grew by 31.8 percent.
Business and property services, construction, and the retail and service industries are expected to keep making major contributions to the strength of the local economy.
Now, the burgeoning price of petrol – and Auckland’s inability to solve its traffic woes – are making the North Shore seem increasingly like sure bet for business.
Safely nestled on the less heavily-trafficked side of Auckland’s Harbour Bridge already lie an impressive array of organisations. Take Takapuna, for example, where the crop of corporations encompasses everything from the over 500-people strong Inland Revenue Department, which works out of the same building as American International Insurance (AIA); market research heavyweights Colmar Brunton and ACNielsen; and financial services provider Sovereign.
The leafy suburbs of traditional Northcote house the nation’s fourth largest internet services provider Orcon Internet, media darling Navman, and the 70-year-old privately owned civil construction firm Smith & Davies. While, over in Birkenhead, at Duck Creek, the New Zealand Sugar Company has been refining sweet stuff at its Chelsea Refinery since 1884.

Room for growth
Now this blend of businesses, both old and more recent, is being pushed firmly into new territory with two major recent developments: Smales Farm Technology Office Park and Albany City.
Both sit on what their owners describe as some of the last large greenfield tracts in the area. As such, both represent significant opportunities for thoughtful and sensible development for the future.
Sitting on 12 hectares of prime land alongside the northern motorway, Smales Farm is home to what is being touted as New Zealand’s most advanced technology office park. It’s still work in progress but, once completed, will house up to 13 major buildings, provide employment for more than 7000 people and, according to Massey University study, contribute directly and indirectly some $775 million to the regional economy.
Owned and operated by several generations of the Smale family, the technology park is collection of stand-alone building sites with large floor plates in what brochures describe as “park-like grounds and landscaping”. Facilities will extend to mini-metropolis of services including gym, crèche, delicatessen, hairdresser, bank, restaurants, cafes and small hotel. The new busway into Auckland City stops right outside.
More to the point, and unlike many developers, the Smale family refuses to sell off buildings once they are tenanted. It remains the long-term owner and landlord.
Gerard Martin, Enterprise North Shore’s manager communications and business development, says this multi-generational approach packs an additional punch for the stability that it installs into the area.
According to director and family member Greg Smale, that also carries major advantages for tenants. The family can be flexible about lease terms, for example, so that tenants can upsize or downsize according to the changing needs of their businesses. It encourages the use of shared boardrooms, meetings rooms and other facilities and all buildings are constructed so that partitions can be moved readily and interior layouts changed at any time.
In similar vein, the Albany City pro-ject represents another major opportunity for planned development of large tract of valuable land. Spread over 43-hectare site, Albany City will, over the next 10 to 15 years, evolve to provide office space for more than 15,000 workers, homes for 6000 residents, slew of speciality and bulk retail outlets, and stash of recreational facilities.
Adam Reynolds is development manager for Symphony Projects, the company that owns the leasehold on the project. He says the Albany project will be the number-one regional centre for the North Shore: akin to Manukau City’s Botany Downs Centre.
A DTZ Research study showed that between 2000 and 2004 more than 90 percent of the North Shore’s growth in office employment occurred in the Albany Basin. With no sign of this slowing down, Symphony Projects is dedicating 12.5 hectares of the Albany City site for an office park development.

Living locally
Both initiatives clearly tie in to North Shore City’s stated aim of encouraging as many North Shore residents as possible to work within the area.
According to Martin, about 48 percent of the total North Shore working community exits the North Shore every day to work elsewhere. “Ideally,” he says, “we would want to bring that number down.”
Given the combined impetus of rising fuel prices and clogged roads (or Harbour Bridge in this case), it seems hard to believe that workers would willingly struggle out of the North Shore if they had feasible alternative.
Certainly, an estimated 72 percent of the IRD’s 500 or so Takapuna workers live locally. Similarly, Betsy Duncan, managing director of bulk mail processing company Actionmail, estimates three quarters of her permanent staff live on the North Shore. “Look at the traffic going over the Harbour Bridge each day,” she says. “I think most of those people would like to [both] live and work on the North Shore.”

No to naysayers
Clearly, the North Shore is not short of advocates. Asking Shore-ite why they’re based on the “other side” of Auckland’s iconic Harbour Bridge unleashes peal of positives.
Greg Smale points out that the region is very attractive part of Auckland in which to live. This, he reckons, stems from what he describes as “Auckland’s most highly educated workforce, its string of beaches, good housing stock and well-developed restaurant and cafe life scene”.
Then there are the carparks and trees, fast access to places further north, and the all-consuming desire not to have to troll across the Harbour Bridge each day. Anything but that.
Regional growth, in Adam Reynolds’ mind, is driven by mix of positive signals including migration, lifestyle, affordability of housing, access to good schools, and solid and reliable transport links.
Tellingly, Actionmail’s Betsy Duncan praises North Shore City – and, in particular, Enterprise North Shore – for its “positive and encouraging” approach to business. (She’d give local council support an off-the-cuff rating of eight or nine out of 10.) “Most importantly,” she says, “council seems to work with business.”
A good, if small-scale, example of this is New Zealand Tool & Die, cluster of six tool-making companies brought together with help from both Enterprise North Shore and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise to work collectively in the export market.
Chairman Peter Herbert says the companies pool resources to market and organise sales of their tool-making capabilities. The arrangement gives them the critical mass and presence of larger company while retaining the attributes and nifty reaction times of smaller organisations.
It is still early days to rate the cluster’s success, he says. The initiative is only two

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