by Lindsay Shelton
The newly-arrived boss of the newly-created Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency aims to listen, learn and lead. His mission is to create economic growth, and he’ll be starting with the city’s international education sector, which he says has underperformed.
The new organisation  is to “make a big difference” and provide “a clear voice” for the region by merging five separate entities: the regional council’s Grow Wellington agency, and the city council’s Positively Wellington Tourism, Destination Wellington, Positively Wellington Venues and Major Events.
Its new chief executive is South African Chris Whelan who officially started work last week in China where he joined the Wellington delegation led by Mayor Wade-Brown. He told the DomPost  that his organisation needs to set a framework with local councils “but ultimately it will be the business community who will drive things.” And he said there will be changes:
The 120 agency staff are currently working in various location across the city and he is searching for new single premises. There had been a lot of “pent-up expectation” about what he would bring to the role, he said. He had drafted a transition plan for his first 100 days – some of which was internally focused. “Being candid, there will be changes and we need to bring the organisations together and this will not happen overnight. My aims are to listen, learn and then to lead.”
“I would like to see Wellington globally connected and recognised as one of the top cities for innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.” If Wellington could get the “city vitals” of connection, innovation, distinctiveness and talent, it would see long-term growth, he said. It was essential for Wellington to build on its strengths of education, film and screen and technology…In his view, WREDA would be an advocacy group that also engaged with the business community.
Mr Whelan’s appointment was announced in May  by WREDA chairman Peter Biggs, who said the new recruit combined an economic and growth focus with strong leadership skills:
“Chris is an economic development expert and just the person to help realise the enormous potential and confidence we all have in Wellington City and the region. He also has the management experience to lead the transition that will combine the five existing business units into the recently formed development agency.”
The chairman had been named  almost a year ago, with the councils describing him as a marketing heavyweight and cultural entrepreneur. Upper Hutt mayor Wayne Guppy, speaking for the Wellington Mayoral Forum, said the Biggs appointment was …
…the best-possible start for WREDA and a signal of confidence in the potential of the Wellington economy. It’s hard to find a more energetic, experienced, driven and well-connected person than Peter. I have confidence that he will lead WREDA from the front and give it the profile it needs to become established.”
Amalgamation fan Fran Wilde didn’t mention that the new mega-organisation could be seen as duplicating economic policies already being carried out by the city council. She focused on the fact that five separate council organisations were to be compressed into WREDA – and said they hadn’t worked well on their own:
“Combining business and economic development with tourism promotion, events and venues will give Wellington the muscle we need to get results for the regional economy. Fragmentation has not served us well and now we have a chance to get some real focus.”
Celia Wade-Brown talked about economic growth:
“I’m delighted that Peter’s creativity will give Wellington’s economic growth agenda a real creative buzz. He understands the value of our innovative, collaborative culture across the arts, film, technology, education and food to name some of this region’s strengths.”
She would have remembered, of course, that economic growth was also on her agenda when Kevin Lavery arrived from the United Kingdom to be the city council’s new chief executive in 2013. One of his first changes was the resignation of the chief financial officer, after which the council announced: 
Mr Lavery wanted to make sure economic growth – an important priority for the Council and the city – had the appropriate focus in the Executive Leadership Team. “This is about giving some horsepower to economic growth,” he said.
Last month he was rewarded with a pay rise  for doing better than the council had expected. Justin Lester announced the pay rise:
Kevin has done a an exceptional job working with council staff to deliver a bold and strategically focused Long Term Plan that offers a revitalised economic strategy based on projects that will help catapult Wellington into its next chapter.
Which makes things sound somewhat competitive, with the council delivering (catapulting?) its revitalised economic strategy just as the new boss of WREDA arrives to create a similar plan. We should no doubt be grateful that the city now has not one but two organisations sharing the responsibility for growing our economy. And not one but two chief executives both working to ensure that the city achieves the economic growth that the politicians are wanting.
No doubt they’ll be scheduling regular meetings to ensure they achieve a real focus on the horsepower of their separate economic strategies. And no doubt they’ll each be striving to prove that two economic strategies are better than one.