Making South Waikato the most prosperous region in Aotearoa is a bold ambition. But that’s exactly what South Waikato Investment Fund Trust (SWIFT) is setting out to achieve. A community-owned economic development fund dedicated to making South Waikato thrive, SWIFT has recently implemented some key changes, which chief executive Amanda Hema believes will really catapult the region forward.

“We have reset the organisation for greatest impact. We needed to be bolder and more focused to create the most meaningful outcomes for the community,” she says.

In order to be the best development catalyst for South Waikato, supporting a resilient economy and enhancing community wellbeing, SWIFT has a relatively new team, with two positions created – Operations Manager and Community Liaison Coordinator. Amanda also formally came on board in April as the Chief Executive and she says the three will work together collaboratively to further the trust’s goals of growing local businesses, people and the district’s workforce while enhancing South Waikato’s competitive and productive industries.

A major vehicle to achieve this is a business fund that is offered to assist local businesses in a growth phase to continue their trajectory and for businesses looking to move to South Waikato. The aim is economic opportunity and job creation with many other positive spin off benefits for the community.

To date $1.3m of business loans has been granted through the fund, supporting the addition of over 75 new business start-ups resulting in the creation of 566 jobs over the past five years.

In addition SWIFT has been partnering with the government’s Regional Business Partners Programme, subsidising business support for small to medium enterprises in South Waikato. Amanda says the focus is firmly on up-skilling the business rather than a handout.

Large scale community grants for not for profits, particularly those with a focus on training and development, are another piece of the overarching strategy.
“We recognise it’s one thing to grow job opportunities but you also need the people to fill them. So we want to support our rangitahi to get the right training and we have had 185 training placements through SWIFT initiatives already,” says Amanda.

SWIFT is also involved in two significant projects for the region. The $14m South Waikato Trades Training Centre will offer a combined 3500m2 of learning, workshop and staff space with a commercial kitchen, café and barbershop.  It has been made possible thanks to substantial investment from Kanoa (Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment) and Trust Waikato. Toi Ohomai is a key partner and has a long history and commitment to providing trades training in the South Waikato to align with local industry including logistics, engineering, mechanical and construction. Scholarships will also be offered for the first 3 years once the Trade Training Centre is operating to enable students to pursue their dreams.

The construction of the South Waikato Trade Training Centre will generate or support an estimated 200 direct jobs and 30 indirect jobs. Approximately 35-40 long-term operational jobs are expected to be created by the development of the facility. The Training Centre is also of course expected to place skilled workers into new jobs.

The project has also led to a spinoff project on the same site, a new office building. The space will be leased to Manulife (formerly Hancock Forest Management NZ) and Amanda says that although SWIFT does not consider itself a developer or landlord it is focused on optimising key sites in the district to enable its overall aim of economic growth.

Both projects are underway and have an earmarked completion date of April 2023. Amanda says that SWIFT is also examining the potential of a site in Putāruru for another exciting project, which is under investigation.