When Captain James Cook first laid eyes on the shores of Tauranga in the 1700s, he aptly named the town the ‘Bay of Plenty’ in reference to the many villages and bountiful produce he could see from on board the Endeavour.
Centuries later, the ‘Bay of Plenty’ name still fits, but in a slightly different context. Now, the city of Tauranga is home to many exciting businesses across the sector, in areas such as tech, design and digital.
This may surprise some Kiwis, as the image often conjured up of Tauranga is sun-soaked coastlines and a relaxed, slower-paced lifestyle. Those in the business sector might be under the impression that its prowess only lies in horticulture and exporting.
While those sectors are indeed booming, there’s more to this city than meets the eye.
Nigel Tutt, the chief executive of Priority One, Tauranga’s economic development agency, says many startups and more established businesses are choosing to locate themselves in Tauranga.
“People are constantly surprised,” Tutt says. “I think they have a perception of Tauranga that is a little slow, when you get people actually coming here, their minds are blown. They go, ‘wow, we didn’t realise how much was happening here, we want to be part of it too.’”
The city has always experienced strong population growth, but Tutt says business growth is now surpassing it and, as the economy matures and diversifies, it will continue to do so for the next couple of decades.
The Bay of Plenty was the strongest performing regional economy in New Zealand last year, with a 7.7 percent increase in its GDP.
The MBIE Jobs Online report found job listings in the Bay jumped 53 percent in the year to September 2016, versus a 12.5 percent growth nationally.
As well as this, Companies Office data shows that in 2016, there were 2,066 new companies incorporated in Tauranga, a 25 percent increase on the year previous.
While Tauranga’s envious beach lifestyle is an obvious drawcard, there’s a combination of reasons as to why the Bay of Plenty is attracting so much talent. Among the factors, Tutt says there’s a culture of collaboration and co-creation, with businesses large and small willing to lend a helping hand to each other, even if they’re potentially competitors.
This also means the business ecosystem in Tauranga is extremely interconnected, he says, with the right companies, people and organisations just one degree of separation away.
There’s also a focus on cultivating innovation in the region. Callaghan Innovation has invested in a high-tech incubator in Tauranga, while events like the Young Innovators Awards (YiA) and the Groundswell festival – the Bay’s inaugural celebration of innovation in the region, which runs from 7 to 13 August this year – are laying the foundations for a thriving, innovative city.
“The vision [for Groundswell] is to help Tauranga become nationally and internationally recognised as a centre of innovation,” he says.
Although the city’s growth is leading to increasing house prices and traffic, Tutt says the region’s 50-year growth plan means it has been able to accommodate it.
“We’re quite proud of our city. It’s moving and changing and there’s loads going on, we can see it emerging in front of our eyes and we have the opportunity to shape it,” he says.
Having lived in Auckland and trekked down to Tauranga to visit family over the past 15 or so years, I’ve seen the city grow from a humble seaside town into a fully-fledged, bustling city.
There’s an excitement in the air, as creative businesses and individuals pop up. And the region is expansive enough to feel like there’s a lot of potential, but small enough that it feels like a cohesive ecosystem is being built.
Over the next few stories, you’ll hear about some of the forward-thinking people and businesses that are playing a part in helping craft the city’s future.
Idealog's guide to Tauranga:
– Why I moved
– Follow the money: How funding is available for nearly every stage of business growth
– Innovation heroes in the Bay
– Ones to watch
– The field of dreams: How ag-tech is booming in Tauranga