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'Game changer enterprise park set to boost Mid-North economy'

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A proposed innovation and enterprise park near Kaikohe is set to become reality with the announcement today that developer Far North Holdings has enough confirmed business occupants to make the park viable. The company also said it had received approval from the Provincial Development Unit for $19.5 million of funding to build infrastructure such as roads, sites, drainage and water storage.

Five cornerstone occupants in Stage One of the park’s development will invest an additional $40m to establish themselves there, creating about 150 new jobs and equipping about 100 people a year with high-value, transferrable skills.

These include Kaikohe Berryfruit Limited and Kerikeri-based Olivado (editorial note: see below for details of both these companies’ operations at the park).

Other park occupants operate in food and beverage processing and manufacturing. Education and training providers will offer courses at the park, including trades training to build prefabricated, low-cost community and social housing.

The goals of the park are to generate employment opportunities in the Kaikohe region, to boost the productivity and GDP of the district and the region, to encourage and enable the use of Māori land for the benefit of iwi and hapū, and to protect land and water resources.

Far North Holdings and mana whenua Ngāti Rangi have spent more than two years working with regional economic development agency Northland Inc, government agencies, iwi, sector and economic development specialists, engineers, architects and planning experts to develop the business case for the park, and a masterplan designed to provide as much of a ‘closed loop’ manufacturing system as possible.

This involves tenants using the innovations and unwanted by-products of other businesses on the site and will help avoid additional demand on already-stretched community services such as potable water, raw water, waste-water treatment and waste management services. For example, Olivado’s biogas facility will process waste streams from horticulture and food manufacturing to provide biomethane gas, an LPG substitute, to other businesses and fertiliser to the horticulture business.

The park is designed to collect as much water as possible and grey water is treated on site. Water for the park’s tenants will be supplemented by the Matawii Dam to be built nearby by Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust. Far North Holdings and Northland Inc have focused on securing interest in the park from businesses and enterprises that are expanding or new to the district, and that will offer new jobs to local people who are unemployed. They have been guided in this work by a set of shared values developed with Ngāti Rangi hapÅ«.

One of Ngāti Rangi’s spokespeople, Liliana Clarke, said the hapÅ« had been involved in the development of the park since its inception.

"Our hapÅ« is entrusted to protect Ngāti Rangi’s environs and attuned to the pursuit of kaitiakitanga, for a thriving and healthy environment that enhances our quality of life for present and future generations," she said. "We are proactive in all aspects of the park development and have had significant input at all levels, particularly around cultural and environmental monitoring, management and enhancement. Our role is to uphold the legacy of our ancestors in the protection and enhancement of Ngāti Rangi from the mountains to the sea for future generations: Te Mana Motuhake o Ngāti Rangi."

Far North Holdings chief executive Andy Nock said the park needed to provide something unique to attract the interest of businesses to a region where the company and Ngāti Rangi were attempting to build an ecosystem for business growth "from scratch".

"We’re doing this by providing a physical location for research and development agencies and on-site, bespoke training, and by taking an environmentally responsible approach to this development through our closed loop aspirations. These are central attractions for the businesses interested in locating in Stage One," he said.

An innovation and education centre will provide office accommodation for businesses, and laboratory and work space for research and development providers to collaborate with each other and for businesses to grow the level of innovation in the region. It will also contain state-of-the-art communication technology, conference and education facilities so occupants can collaborate remotely with other businesses and centres of expertise outside the region, and deliver on-site and on-the-job education and training.

Growing and manufacturing space has also been set aside at the park for research with landowners and producers to trial higher-value crops and to add value to their production.

Northland Inc will staff the innovation and education centre and provide support to businesses based at the park and elsewhere across the Mid and Far North. Among the staff will be a skills and employment coordinator employed by Northland Inc and funded initially by the Ministry of Social Development, who will match the skills needs of tenants with those seeking work and facilitate employment support - including pastoral care and on-site training.

"We’re committed to ensuring local people can be trained to fill the positions available, at all levels, and employers at the park can access the skilled workforce they need," said Murray Reade, chief executive of Northland Inc.

A business activator will also be employed to bring more tenants to the park. These will fill unallocated sites in Stage 1 of the park’s development, and new sites in Stages 2 and 3. The Ministry of Social Development is providing initial funding for this role as well, which is seen as an important part of expediting and increasing employment outcomes for the district.

"The ‘closed loop’ concept is central to the strategy behind the park," Mr Nock said. "It’s important to establish a set of symbiotic relationships where businesses feed and grow off each other, reducing as far as possible the waste leaving the park, which also lowers their costs. It’s about building a self-sustaining network within the park that gives other businesses a reason to establish themselves here.

"The role of the business activator will be central to this."

Kaikohe Berryfruit Limited

This is a joint venture led by Ngāpuhi Asset Holding Company, partnering with award-winning Northland grower Maungatapere Berries and the Far North District Council-owned company Far North Holdings. It will see the development of a sustainability-focused, high-tech hydroponics berryfruit operation, which will develop a 28-hectare site.

The partnership will grow soft berries, mostly raspberries and blackberries, starting with 10 hectares of hydroponic tunnel houses. Packing and cool-store facilities will be built on site and the enterprise is expected to provide good-quality, well-paid work for between 120 and 160 local people each year. Of these, between 60 and 70 are expected to be full-time positions.

Ngāpuhi Asset Holding Company chief executive Paul Knight said: "This is highly strategic regional partnership, developing one of the largest soft berryfruit growing operations in New Zealand. The venture is forecast to increase local business activity by $34m a year and will become one of the largest employers in the region, providing attractive and well-paid jobs within easy reach of our community."

Mr Knight said the venture provided a "step-change opportunity" for the Kaikohe community and Ngāpuhi, and that "enabling this type of development is at the heart of what Ngāpuhi Asset Holding Company has sought to achieve."

Olivado

Kerikeri-based Olivado will build an expanded avocado oil production plant to service the huge growth of avocado plantings in Northland, to supply its 34 markets internationally. It will process its waste through a bio-gas unit to produce bio-methane to run its plant and to supply local industrial and domestic users of LPG.

Kerikeri-based Olivado is a world-leading innovator in its field. It was the first food-oil company in the world to create a circular economy by using all the waste it creates in its production process. It is bringing to Kaikohe an innovative avocado waste management system it developed in Kenya over the past 10 years. This uses avocado waste to make methane for vehicle fuel, and a liquid and solid fertiliser that will be used by Kaikohe Berryfruit Limited and other horticulturalists.

The park will become the base from which Olivado will bring this circular economy concept to dairy farms in Northland by establishing a dairy waste out-sourcing programme. Olivado’s biogas plants will be located on farms, removing the cost of effluent treatment and liability from farmers. This will create many more jobs.

Gary Hannam, Olivado’s chief executive, said: "we’re delighted to be putting the ‘innovation’ into this new innovation and enterprise park near Kaikohe. It’s great to be bringing our innovation back to Northland."

Olivado has 12 years of experience training young Kenyans without a school education to work in its avocado oil factory and biogas plant. Mr Hannam said the most exciting part of the company’s new presence in Kaikohe was being able to contribute practically to the park’s philosophy of becoming a base for training and motivating the many young people who have had no real prospects in Kaikohe for generations.

"We will be working with the park and Kaikohe Berryfruit Limited to give hope to the community in practical training and real jobs; interesting jobs with real prospects for young people.

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