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Whakatāne Mill closure the area's 'moment to reset', says regional strategist

The closure of Whakatāne’s paper mill is the “moment to reset” and move into an area that will allow the region to “be ahead of the curve in the future”, says a strategist from the local economic development agency.

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Karl Gradon, from Toi EDA, says the region needs to pivot to something that will keep it ahead of the curve Source: Breakfast

On Tuesday night, a proposal was put to 210 staff to close the Whakatāne Mill.

Karl Gradon, the general manager of strategy at Eastern Bay of Plenty economic development agency Toi EDA, said the decision was devastating for Whakatāne, which was without tourists because of Covid-19 and no longer the base for tours of Whakaari/White Island.

Staff 'devastated' as Whakatāne Mill closure could see 210 job losses

“It did provide the Bay of Plenty town with an opportunity," Gradon said.

“To pivot this mill into something that will allow us to be ahead of the curve in the future.”

“Not just this mill but the entire wood processing sector.”

There was no shortage of resources in the region, Gradon said.

“In New Zealand we’ve got the best geothermic resources you can find anywhere,” he said.

“On our doorstep you have the largest radiata (pine) plantation so what is it we can do with Government to work on areas that are so important to us in society such as the removal of single use plastics.”

“Today we’re exporting our logs in raw form to the international market and we’re encouraging the Government right now to look at how we can find ways to add value to that product.”

Whakatāne had probably received more funds per capita through the Provincial Growth Fund over the last six months than anywhere else in the country, Gradon said.

“That’s a great boost for us but it hasn’t targeted the backbone industry core, which is the heavy sector of processing wood fibre,” Gradon said.

“This is the backbone of our economy, we’ve got a very small economy, you mentioned Covid and you mentioned Whakaari, what is it?”