The Prime Minister is understandably under fire for his remark that Wellington is a dying city. And why not? It makes a great headline for our media organisations and it certainly gives David Shearer something to respond to. But, given the context of the remark, to a group of business leaders, was he wrong? I think not.
Consider multinational and big business head offices - how many are left in Wellington? When I first arrived here in 1994 Wellington still had the oil companies, the banks, Telecom and a host of other corporate head offices. We might of even still been making cars. And of course Wellington had the business of government. Not now - not even all the business of government is in Wellington. The Ministry of Health, for example, has national contact centres in Wanganui and Dunedin (a great idea if you ask me).
It was also a dull place, full of men in bad fitting grey suits and woman who dressed like soldiers (at least according to the French ambassador, Jacques le Blanc in 1991). But not today. Everyday is casual Friday for a lot of workers, and TradeMe even has a slide in their office, located in a building they share with XERO.
TradeMe, XERO? Who are these people? They are representatives of what Wellington is becoming. They are not the new Wellington, but contributors to its future.
I could dwell on the arts and culture, the wonderful events and the great entertainment Wellington has, but I won't. John Key wasn't talking about them. He was talking about business.
If we are all honest, we'd admit he is right. And Wellington as we knew it had to die. The business of Government does not create wealth, it only ever re-distributes wealth created by others, less the overhead of the distribution process. A nation needs government, and I am happy to pay my taxes for roads, hospitals, schools and trade commissioners, but ultimately the business of government is a consumer, not a wealth creator. It's job is to create an environment that allows people to create businesses which can create wealth. It's job is not to employ people just to keep the offices full.
The great news for Wellington is that our reliance on the business of government is less now than ever before. There are the obvious 'new' business's, some I have already mentioned, like TradeMe and XERO and of course there is Weta and the whole network of support businesses built because of Weta. But there is also hospitality, and of course amazing events like the IRB Sevens, which create hundreds of jobs and deliver millions into the region's economy.
But importantly there are business incubators like Creative HQ helping people with new ideas get commercial, Australian contact centres opening here and innovation hubs like the Grow Wellington Clean Tech Centre.
There are people on the roads, and people on trains and buses. There are more in cafe's and bars and more walking along the waterfront at lunchtime. Yes, old jobs have gone, but there are new jobs in there place otherwise the people would be gone. And while many of the new jobs are in smaller companies, some of these smaller companies will go on to become big companies. Just give them time.
Key was right. Wellington as we knew it is dying, if not already dead. RIP old Wellington, you served us all well. But clear the decks because a new Wellington is emerging.