Local Innovation

Editor’s note: This is my regular weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Periodically we hear talk of “innovation” in and around our River City. The term is spouted, touted and the “innovators” are outed. But from what I can tell, innovation must be a lot like beauty: it is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, many of the so-called innovations are simply not very original and/or useful to society.

Meanwhile, what I consider one of the most innovative local businesses has gone unrecognized for its success and even moderate growth despite considerable headwinds. Who is that business? You’re holding it. Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 6.11.25 AM

The Wanganui Chronicle is a thriving regional newspaper in an age of global print media decline. For example, the New Orleans Times Picayune reduced its print run to a Wednesday/Friday/Sunday schedule in 2012. The New Orleans metropolitan area has a population of around 1.2 million. Compare that to the Whanganui region.

I’ll admit that New Orleans had been through hard times, so I’ll give another example. In 2009, the new owners of the Boston Globe – one of the finest newspapers is America – aggressively pursued $20 million (US) in cost savings due to decreasing revenues.

As with any business, there’s income and expenses. As income is squeezed and expenses rise or remain static, innovation is essential. Although there are probably many innovations of which I am unaware, I’ll mention a few here.

Three years ago this week the Chronicle launched its tabloid-style Monday-Friday paper and its new-look weekend broadsheet edition. These changes were accompanied by the beginning of a trend in regular local columnists of which we three on page B5 were the first. (Happy Anniversary Terry and Kate!) With over a dozen local writers now contributing regular weekly columns, the Chronicle is supplied with abundant, relevant, and shall we say “cost effective” content to fill the pages with issues that matter to our community.

Let’s classify the above changes to the Chronicle as right-sizing and using local resources. From one perspective, these can be considered eco-thrifty strategies. Add to these the fact that APN shares printing presses with rival publisher Fairfax, and you have a series of innovative, cost-effective measures that ensure our local paper continues to publish six days a week.

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Another innovative organisation I discovered recently in Palmerston North is Reclaimed Timber Traders. To put it bluntly, I am amazed by this organization. From their website:

“In an effort to contribute to a more sustainable environment and conserve native forests, we are recycling treated and non-treated timber that would otherwise go to landfill here in The Manawatu, extending to other regions in the near future.

Whilst providing employment, training and social opportunities for disadvantaged and unemployed in our community.”

The environmental benefits of RTT are clear and admirable, but the social benefits are truly impressive. Also from their webiste:

“Some of us at RTT have faced barriers to working, and as a Social Enterprise we actively try to help others find employment by offering work experience and volunteering opportunities. Many of our volunteers have found employment.

We provide a supportive family / whanau environment to encourage life and social skills in order to raise self worth, and work readiness to reduce unemployment and associated negative outcomes. E.g. imprisonment and suicide.”

If that was not enough to earn this tiny organisation huge praise, they also provide shipping containers full of reclaimed building materials to international disaster areas. This function is facilitated by their charitable arm, Human Aid Focus.

I recently purchased a selection of native timbers to frame a kitchen island. While the top is a reclaimed rimu bar I bought on Trade Me last winter, the matai legs come from RTT, and the tounge and groove is the former lean-to ceiling of our Castlecliff villa. Total cost: $107. Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 6.11.00 AM

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If you would like more information about Reclaimed Timber Traders or Human Aid Focus, their website is: www.reclaimedtimbertraders.co.nz


Peace, Estwing