Today is the third time in 4 days I have been encouraged to run for Mayor of Hamilton. The first time someone said it, I laughed at how crazy it sounded. However, since it came from a well-connected, high-level business woman who is a director on several national technology boards, I wondered if it had merit. When two other similarly-connected and well-regarded Hamilton businessmen suggested I run for Mayor, I felt like I was Alice down the rabbit hole. “Are you serious? Why would anyone vote for a 34-year-old?” to which I received the response:
“You have the commercial experience, passion, drive, and an amazing vision for Hamilton”
So, as I reflect on these comments, together with the conversations I’ve had with the current Hamilton Mayor, Deputy Mayor, various Members of Parliament, NZ Government Ministers, and local business leaders, I wanted to coalesce my thoughts and vision. If only, for the record.
Since returning to Hamilton in 2014, after 8.5 years within the California high-tech sector, I have spent time watching and listening with a fresh pair of eyes and ears. In my humble opinion, Hamilton city is the best-kept secret within New Zealand. We have a healthy population of ~150,000 people: big enough to draw in the larger retail outlets, nurture highly-successful SMEs, house multi-national corporations, exercise political clout where necessary, and host some big events. However, we are also small enough to where traffic may add an extra 15mins and we don’t have to try too hard to lead a balanced life. As much as our youth demographic would contest this,
our old slogan "Hamilton - Where It's Happening” was actually true.
Perhaps not for entertaining our youth, but it is true when it comes to our regional economy. Hamilton businesses and people go about their days, weeks, and months making lots of little things happen within their silo of influence. Like a well-oiled car engine, we turn the wheels slowly and quietly without much fuss. Because we turn the wheels quietly, the people and its process becomes invisible. To outsiders, that makes us an enigma. Historically, that is how the majority of Hamiltonians have liked it. So, Hamilton generally flies under the radar, growing ~3% per annum without putting our hand up too much.
Unfortunately, Hamiltonians have also become accustomed to the engine running through their little contributions. However, as our economy faces bigger challenges and the road becomes steeper, specific leaders within the Hamilton City Council have been working really hard to make up the difference. This is not sustainable. Yes, a city council is supposed to create important policies and mandates. Yes, they should look at city’s goals, major projects, and infrastructure improvements. And yes, they can jump-start sector workgroups. However, a successful city needs its people and local companies to provide the spark and offer legwork to generate forward momentum - to offer fresh and agile ideas. Some people, associations, and companies ‘get it’: like Gallagher, ASB, PwC, and Wintec. However, we can’t rely on the same companies to keep putting their hand up. Hamilton is poised to become a great city, with strong regional ties. But...
...without community and SME involvement, a cohesive vision, agile leadership, and support across partnering regions, no single Mayor or council group can get us there.
Herein lies my vision, which will take 3-6 years to achieve and is co-driven by the community.
- Digital Equality and Education Reform
- Leadership and Governance Training
- Strategic Partnerships
Let me briefly elaborate on each of these three topics:
Digital Equality + Technology Education Reform
When I say “digital equality” I don’t mean that everyone has equal access to an iPad. I mean,
where everyone has access to quality education and training to use that digital resource to create something of value.
Over the next 20 years, 46% of our current jobs are predicted to be replaced by automation. That does NOT mean we will have 46% less jobs, but that we will likely be employed in jobs we don’t fully understand yet. As this happens, low socio-economic blue collar workers are cornered out of the employment market, and their children will be further selected against. White collar workers who form the middle socio-economic segment, may start seeing Artificial Intelligence replacing them. We predict the divide between low and high-socioeconomic groups will widen, as currently low groups will move lower and mid-groups divide. As such, the digital equality gap will grow deeper.
To help address this issue, I believe there should be policy and local government-based initiatives surrounding effective tech education for:
- Teachers and
- Local Government
These initiatives would include:
- Lobbying for education reform through the Ministry of Education – creating industry work groups to design and drive quality primary and secondary education curriculum that matches industry needs.
- Bringing industry and tertiary educators together to create effective tertiary education curriculum, primarily around teacher training, and offer education credits to incentivize registered teachers to attend formal technology development.
- Incentivizing national technology education centers to open satellite bases in Hamilton, including The Mind Lab, Tech Futures Lab, and OMGTech (for children, parents, and corporations)
- Establishing Hamilton Digital Libraries – allowing free e-book access within WIFI range and possibly an e-book lending service. This would lower infrastructure costs and permit access to more modern content.
- Spearheading an annual Hackathon event to stimulate interest and investment pathways for youth coding projects.
- Offering small funding opportunities for local community technology events or groups e.g. technology sub-committees, suburban coding competitions, or cyber “white hat” hacking groups.
Leadership and Governance Training
For Hamilton to make the changes it needs to become a pivotal part of the WaiBOP Belt (see below), we need to acclimatize all our local government to a higher level of thinking and doing.
For this initiative, the council would take a hard look at walking-the-walk within our walls. For us to effectively lead change, we need to be the change ourselves: by instituting a rigorous governance, leadership, and technology professional development pathway.
This will give the entire council and leadership team the opportunity to become the leaders we need, and help those who cannot adapt to the new technology and agile leadership landscape to move on.
However, we cannot become a vibrant city or region if we aren’t united. As we lead by example and through the community voice, we would strongly encourage our partnering councils, Waipa and Waikato Regional to join us in agile leadership and execution.
As the Hamilton in-land port progresses, it is important for our region to create a strong strategic alliance with a sea port. Tauranga, with its rapid growth in medium-large enterprises, improvements in digital and civic infrastructures, and high-value human resource, is a perfect partner and forms what I like to call the “WaiBOP Belt” (#waibopbelt). That is our future.
Within this regional belt we have a unique opportunity to create a high-tech logistics and large transport hub – allowing overseas shipment transport from Tauranga into the centralized in-land port within Hamilton, then distributing nationally. Not only would this increase the number of jobs across these regions, but it would reduce trucks into and out of Auckland, lowering road congestion, reduce national distribution costs, lower maintenance expenses to current high-use rail lines, and help inject money into improved land-transport technology.
This is only the tip of the iceberg and I’m happy to elaborate to anyone if asked.
Regardless of who runs for Hamilton Mayor, and who is elected, it would take a unified/cohesive plan and a highly active and passionate team to execute a promising Hamilton vision. Not only that, but
to become a modern city, we need help from the average Hamiltonian to rise as a leader within their community and take ownership.
If you like any (or all) of these ideas, I encourage you to voice them to your local government representative.
In the meantime, I will continue working within my cone of influence to help Hamilton reach its potential. If you want to join this mission, please get in touch.