Lower paid jobs are holding us back

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OPINION: I perched on a stone wall on Camp Street, camera in hand.

“What’s going on, mate?” an Aussie asked.

It’s the local resort college’s graduation parade, I told him.

“That must be a big thing for this town.”

I thought for a second. “Yes,” I said. “Yes it is.”

Queenstown Resort College shows the ‘can-do’ attitude this place attracts.

Its expansion is a success story the town needs to celebrate.

Taken in isolation, the tertiary institution’s steadily climbing roll and offshore expansion are worthy enough of praise.

But what it does for this town is expand what we do - taking this place in new directions.

Then it becomes more than a place to jump off things, carve trails in snow and hit the bars.

Top-end study is a great thing for a town this size.

Now just to attend to the problem underneath that.

How does a QRC graduate stay in town?

There’s only a small number of managerial jobs to aspire to if you intend to settle here, buy a house and maybe start a family.

Affordable housing is something that’s gained plenty of profile in recent years, nationally and locally.

There’s a local housing trust doing fine work and the government’s weighed in with a special agreement to fast-track developments.

It’s an attractive prospect for a confidential list of developers, who we may not know from Adam.

But this only deals with part of the problem.

This is a bizarre place given that an ‘affordable’ home is thought to be $450,000. How do you afford that on near minimum wage?

This is where a special Queenstown minimum wage might help.

Why do we need it?

Attracting more Kiwis is one argument - raised by Frank Marvin a few weeks ago.

To avoid social divisions evident in Europe and Arab countries is another.

Otherwise, you can imagine the wealthy retreating to gated communities while ghettos of the underprivileged become hotbeds of criminality.

I try and avoid arguments over ‘inequality’.

But it’s interesting to talk to business owners about profit-lifting changes.

If you pay overseas workers the minimum and it swells your profits by more than their wages, where does the extra money go?

One business owner said bluntly - there’s no incentive to spend it on more managers, the dosh goes straight into his pocket.

He added: “I don’t need more money.”

On the other hand, turnover’s probably good in hospitality - otherwise we risk our recent college graduates upping sticks and leaving immediately.

What kind of town do you imagine?

Some sort of elite club? If that’s the case then the council should get a round of applause for deciding to bowl the Lakeside cabins.

Queenstown will always be relatively expensive.

But I dream of a town where people don’t have to go away to make their money and come back later to spend it.
A town where people who have struggled for years aren’t forced to leave. They might still struggle but they’ll know if they stick it out they’ll eventually be able to buy their first home.

This place is insanely attractive for its scenery. But that only gets you so far.

Let’s make it more attractive as a place to live and work.

david@scene.co.nz