This is my last column as Chair of Development West Coast. I have enjoyed this role immensely over the past seven years and will be leaving with some degree of sadness.

Since its inception DWC has worked hard to invest the original Government adjustment package of $92m into the region, and there have been many successes of which I am proud to have been part of at DWC.

We have acted prudently to maintain income on investments to ensure we can continue to make distributions into the region. That fund now stands at over $118m equity with total assets of $129m. This should signal to business owners and industry across the West Coast that there is significant support at hand to help this region grow. However all applications must first meet the objects of DWC’s Deed of Trust.

In my time as Chair, DWC has continued to assist a range of community projects, with over $60m having been invested into the community for projects and facilities since 2001. The range is as diverse as the West Coast itself, and recipients have included the two West Coast cycleways, improvements to the Hokitika RSA, Hari Hari and Fox Glacier community halls, the Karamea Medical Association, resurfacing of the Greymouth netball courts, Westport Solid Energy Centre, Westland Recreation Centre, and funding for the Computers in Schools project, plus many other projects, including bulk funding for the West Coast Community Trust and Amateur Sports Trust.

Businesses and industry have also been recipients of solid financial assistance over the past seven years. DWC has processed around 300 commercial funding requests since 2001 which amounted to over $290m. Of those applications, 137 distributions have been made, seeing a healthy injection of $84m supporting business and industry growth. The application process also requires a due diligence process to enable a check to ensure the dreams of applicants don’t become nightmares. It is not DWC’s role to assist businesses that are not economically viable or sustainable.

The 2015 loan to Sounds Air to purchase an aircraft, ensuring the critical air link between Westport and Wellington remained, was one of the many bold moves DWC was able to take during my tenure, and one which has proven to deliver wide-ranging benefits. But even more significant was the establishment of our Business and Industry Stimulus Fund (BISF) and District Economic Stimulus Fund (DESF). Together, these funding mechanisms provided an opportunity for almost anyone to take advantage of, whether their business be small or large, brand new or decades old. The BISF saw a fund of $5 million available across the region for projects that aimed to create direct employment, along with a one-off fund of $1 million to each of the District Councils to direct funds into eligible projects within their districts.

DWC’s varied funding and support systems have enabled DWC to reach every corner of our region looking to assist businesses and organisations who so wished. Business mentoring, one of our business support services, is a unique business resource which has helped and supported many West Coasters to increase their own skills and business acumen levels. Sixty people have also now graduated from the West Coast Leadership & Governance Programme. This programme is in its 6th year of growing the confidence and leadership skills of West Coasters wanting to contribute to and serve their communities.

The findings of the recent West Coast Growth Study will help to shape a new direction for the region, but the key aim will stay the same – ensuring economic growth for businesses and industry in this region for the benefit of all. It is important for the whole region to share the load – not just DWC.

The West Coast has a range of diverse and exciting businesses that make up its fabric and with the support of DWC they can find ways to develop and grow even further. I look forward to watching their progress and inevitable successes.
Lastly, I want to thank the Trustees, management and staff of DWC who I have enjoyed working with over the past seven years. I wish you all the very best for the future.

John Sturgeon