Agenda Waikato takes first step as business lobby group

Graham Dwyer is chair of Agenda Waikato, a new business think tank aiming to improve the regional business economy.

A new Waikato business group has made an accidental first step into the public arena.

Agenda Waikato gathered $20,000 in funding for entertainment at the Victoria on the River park on Wednesday after Hamilton City Council voted down the idea the week before.

But it doesn't exactly fit the claimed think tank's professed aim of fewer functions, more thinking and discussing.

The chairman of the incorporated society, Graham Dwyer, said he was sitting at home on the couch when he read the entertainment funding wouldn't go ahead.

He sent a few emails to other business owners, who spread the conversation further.

Soon, a "bunch of people", including developer Matt Stark and other Agenda Waikato supporters, stumped up the funds. 

"That's what we want to be able to do, whether it's for Matamata or Cambridge. But we hope to be a bit higher level than that."

It was a branding opportunity for the new group, which announced its presence in August 2017 with a promise to achieve "evidence-based action and outcomes" for the region's businesses.

Agenda Waikato aims to be a think tank and lobby group wrapped into one, aimed at strengthening the region's position with central government.

As of February, the group had gained 22 financial supporters including banks ANZ and BNZ, Jennian Homes, Stark Property, Montana Catering and the University of Waikato.

"We want to influence 'live, work and play'. We're a bunch of businesspeople saying, we need more leadership around this stuff," Dwyer said.

"There's some really good stuff happening, but there're some things we think we're missing out on."
But what is missing is yet to be determined. 

Agenda Waikato has commissioned research from the University of Waikato to compare Hamilton to other cities in New Zealand against 100 data points.

Due out in the middle of March, the report will help focus the group's platform.

Which might have Dwyer asking: We look to be underperforming in [insert area here] - why are we underperforming?"

That's the premise of Agenda Waikato as a "high-level" think tank, a space it hopes to fill in a increasingly crowded field of business groups. 

It sits alongside the Waikato Chamber of Commerce and Hamilton Central Business Association, which do well in supporting and networking businesses, Dwyer said.

There's another prospective group on the horizon which will either complement Agenda Waikato or overlap its mission.

Organised by the regional council's Waikato Means Business chairman Dallas Fisher, a regional economic development agency is in the early stages of forming a board to seek regional council funding.

The need for such a group, according to Fisher, is the same given by Dwyer for Agenda Waikato. Waikato is fragmented, it needs to speak with one voice.

Dwyer said Agenda Waikato may even be absorbed by any incoming development agency.

"It's exciting and we're part of that process, and Dallas is a member of ours.

"But we also think that there is a potential risk when you're partly funded by councils that you can't potentially have those robust discussions quite as easily.

"We're going to be constructive. A stone in the shoe? Maybe."

Dwyer owns ACE Training, a computer training organisation based in Auckland that also runs courses in Wellington and Hamilton.

He has always lived in Hamilton and said the advantages of living and working in the city are clear. 

"A good happy labour force that has great pastimes and are raising happy families makes a great place to run a business."