Engaging with Ōhāriu's vibrant business community

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Among the most rewarding parts of being the National MP based in Ōhāriu is meeting the people, the community groups and businesses that make up the electorate.

Over the past couple of weeks I've had another opportunity to visit some of the local firms that are major employers in the city's economy. They're also some of the most innovative. Meeting local businesses to discuss with them what they're developing and making never fails to impress me.

One employer I spent some time with was Steven McLaughlan and the team at Survive-it. Based in Grenada North, Survive-it provides civil defence emergency solutions to clients across New Zealand.

The business has evolved from being a supplier of standard kits to one that now includes provision of workplace assessments, customised survival kits, workplace maintenance, workplace training and rescue-team equipment.

The company is also collaborating with other Wellington businesses to develop a new product and service, Tremor Sense. Tremor Sense is a combination of physical sensors that measures the amount and direction of movement within a building during an earthquake, with "big data" analytics to provide real intelligence from that data.

Not only will the service provide actual measurements from within a given building, it could also show comparisons across buildings, designs and construction materials. That would provide a wealth of high-value information about what happens to buildings in earthquakes, which might have useful implications for insurance coverage and premiums, as well as on building design, construction and materials.

I also visited R H Freeman & Co Ltd. It's a contract manufacturer of precision sheet-metal products. Also based in Grenada North, R H Freeman & Co is part of the Tiri Group of companies, a diverse group of manufacturing and distribution companies New Zealand-wide.

Kevin Tennant, the group CEO, is also general manager of R H Freeman & Co, and he not only gave me an overview of the group and its work, he also took me on a tour of the factory.

The company produces a wide range of items, from decorative details for movie sets to highly sophisticated switchboards and electronic cabinets, fuel-pump casings, components for office furniture and a range of lockers.

R H Freeman is part of a chain that creates the final, operational fuel pumps -- and that applies as much across countries as it does across local businesses. That's a further reason, were it needed, why trade agreements such as TPP are so important to our future prosperity, jobs and incomes.

Part of the electorate's business community is, of course, its retail sector. Media reports suggest that the Karori Mall in neighboring Wellington Central is for sale.

The mall that's important in Ōhāriu is that in Johnsonville. I recently visited Stride Property to discuss plans for the mall's future, given that its potential redevelopment has been some seven years in the making and is, from time to time, debated in the local newspaper.

Stride chief executive Peter Alexander tells me it accepts the challenges that uncertainty brings but reassured me that Stride intends to proceed with development on the current site. I gather we'll hear more about that shortly. Like other local businesses and residents for whom the mall is important, I'm looking forward to whatever Stride can divulge before too long.

I really appreciate the willingness of local companies to brief me on their business and discuss the challenges they face. Small to medium-sized businesses are the heart of Ōhāriu and the wider Wellington region. They employ our families and our friends, they often back and sometimes sponsor community and sports groups, and they soldier on in good times and bad. They are often the glue that keeps the wider community together and they should know how much we value what they do.