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I live in Tokoroa.
It's a sleepy little timber-town which has changed from being a prosperous "almost city" with a can-do attitude back in the 1980s, to a backwater where the local council and WINZ offices are the biggest buildings in the town.
A friend who came out from China to visit again, commented how the number of "to let" signs in the town's CBD had grown since his previous visit.
There are a lot of really interesting, friendly and honest people here. In fact, the thing that struck me most when I moved from near Auckland to Tokoroa over eight years ago, was the fact that if you smiled at someone in the street, they actually smiled back!
On paper, Tokoroa actually has a lot going for it...
It's about an hour from everywhere.
The port and beaches of Tauranga, the tourist centre of Rotorua, the lake and splendor of Taupo, the commerce and business of Hamilton. Even those who like a bit of skiing are only a couple of hours from the best slopes the North Island has to offer.
Despite this "prime location", Tokoroa's housing and commercial property prices are pretty damned cheap.
If you are prepared to live in a "less desirable" part of town you can still pick up a 3-bedroom house for around $100K and you can rent a fairly reasonable bit of commercial space for under $200 a week.
There's also a decent sized labour pool with WINZ assistance for employers if you're prepared to take on some of the longer-term unemployed.
So why aren't businesses flocking to Tokoroa to take advantage of all this?
That's an incredibly good question, and one I'll be putting to the test very shortly.
Right now I'm working on putting together a deal that could see this town become the hub of a rapidly growing industry with huge export-earning potential. I have local and overseas interest in backing this initiative and it's something that would provide jobs for locals plus significant spin-offs for other local industries.
Even a significant amount of the funding involved has already been pledged, including investment from China - which will please John Key.
What's required now is negotiating with "the powers that be".
To take advantage of this potential, some bold decisions will have to be made by the local district council.
Now I've crossed swords with the bureaucracy that is the SWDC before so I'm guarded in my opinion as to what the outcome might be. However, it will be a wonderful opportunity for the council to show that they are prepared to embrace the chance to turn Tokoroa into a specialist centre of excellence in a rapidly growing hi-tech market.
If they're smart enough to recognise the huge potential that will be placed before them, I'm pretty sure that there is a very real chance to turn Tokoroa form a "timber town" into a "tech town".
From a commercial perspective -- Tokoroa has a huge amount to offer, some of which I've already outlined. From the perspective of attracting and retaining tech-workers, some skilled marketing could make the town look quite attractive (those nearby beaches, ski-fields, lakes, etc).
This is not going to be easy -- but nothing worthwhile ever is.
I expect that by Christmas, we'll know whether Tokoroa could enjoy a renaissance brought about by embracing the hi-tech sector -- or whether it will continue to wither away and die.
Apparently, word on the ground is that the Kinleith mill may be "downsized" in the not-too-distant future. The local council needs to be anticipating this and doing everything it can to promote alternative industries in the district.
An interesting test, with a lot at stake.
If the right job opportunity presented itself and it became obvious that the town was reinventing itself as a pro-technology centre, would you consider relocating to Tokoroa to take advantage of it?
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