At a point between embarking on our second Bay of Plenty Business News Yearbook – and the publication of this edition – something strange happened. The world as I understood it was fundamentally changed by a virus that was invisible to the naked eye.
It felt like an overnight transformation, though in practice it took a week or so for the full extent of the devastation being experienced globally from COVID-19 to fully sink in. I will admit that, in the early stages of the pandemic, I was a little sceptical about its potential long-term impact.
I worked for the World Health Organisation during the SARS crisis period and lived in Asia for many years.
I’d been through the Asian Financial Crisis, and the Global Financial Crisis. And I had concluded that, with coordinated government actions and good management systems, most crises could be overcome.
I had come to believe that the natural optimism and resilience of humanity always eventually triumphed. My confidence was severely dented by COVID-19’s rampant global progress.
As this editorial was written – in the first half of June 2020 – there were encouraging signs that at least the severe health issues around the pandemic seemed to be under control here in New Zealand.
The coalition government had been effective in stemming the early infection and fatalities from COVID-19. They also benefited from dealing with a largely sensible and supportive, but relatively small population. And we were effectively secured by an oceanic moat. An election was due in September 2020 as I wrote this, and the outcome was hard to call. But it seemed obvious, at least in June, that even with the best health outcomes, slamming the brakes on the economy was going to prove much easier than getting it back in gear and running again.
All New Zealanders are facing the prospect of dealing with economic despair and recession for many months and possibly years. That said, the Bay of Plenty is in as favourable a situation as any of the country’s regions, with great strengths in horticulture, primary products, technology and manufacturing, and agile, adept and adaptable companies, many of them successful exporters. And of course New Zealand’s biggest and most efficient port.
I’m delighted we’ve been able to produce and place Yearbook 2020 in your hands. Our inaugural edition last year was conceived to celebrate the strengths of Bay business and that remains our objective. Our team was humbled by and appreciative of the support we’ve received from the many excellent local companies that have come into this year’s edition.
And above all I’ve been encouraged by the positive approach the business community has shown in the myriad ways it has responded to COVID-19. Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt – one of the many business and political leaders who share their insights on the future with readers in the Yearbook – suggests the key to minimising the damage from COVID-19 will be not just to maintain business confidence and employment, but to use this jolt to normal business as a catalyst.
“As we seek to rebuild our economy, and with the knowledge that we are in reasonable shape compared to the rest of the world, we find ourselves in a position where we can look ahead and be bold about accelerating change,” he says.
In the decade I’ve lived in the Bay, I’ve always been impressed by the essentially positive, flexible and collaborative nature of its business community. And I’m by nature an optimist.
Be safe, well and supportive of each other.