A day in the life of an economist – Benje Patterson
Thu 24 Nov 2016 by Jacqui Clarke in RegionalNewsletter

In the wake of the recent American elections there’s been a lot of talk about people leaving the USA. Although most are looking to Canada, New Zealand is in the top three on the list of preferred countries to move to.  Emigration may seem an extreme reaction, but it is fair to say that people are always on the move – sometimes by choice and sometimes by force – and this movement fuels our economies and circulates skills and ideas on both a global and regional scale.

Senior economist, Benje Patterson takes a keen interest in economic forces that affect our regions. He heads our Regional Service and gives insights to councils and industry leaders on the major trends and outlook for each region.

He has also travelled extensively and brings a wealth of global knowledge back into his work at Infometrics.

Benje is on the move again, but this time he’s not crossing the Andes, but rather going home to his roots.  He is relocating to Queenstown where he will continue to build Infometrics’ presence on the South Island.

We chat with Benje in our regular feature “A day in the life of an Economist” and ask him about his interest in regional New Zealand and how he was bitten by the travel bug.

Bio – Benje Patterson

Studied at: University of Otago and University of Freiburg

Resides in: Wellington (currently…)

Jacqui: Can you describe a typical day at work?

Benje: My schedule varies a lot depending on whether I am in the office or out and about visiting our clients throughout the country.  My time in the office is characterised by rhythmic tapping on my keyboard, punctuated by the welcome ringing of my telephone.  For those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting me in person – you know I like to talk.  The day can’t get any better than when one of our lovely clients calls me up for some advice and I get to talk them through a way forward.

I am fortunate to get out of the office on a regular basis.  The regional clients I work with are all dispersed through the country meaning I have gotten to know most places pretty well.  When I arrive in a new town, I find staff at supermarkets are an important yardstick for the mood of people in the area – I am pleased to report that most of New Zealand seems to be in pretty good spirits at present!

JC: What are the major economic drivers affecting New Zealand’s regions?

BP: That is quite a loaded question, that has different answers depending on whether we are looking over a long or short term horizon.  Over the shorter-term, cyclical factors in sectors such as agriculture and tourism are big drivers.  However, over the longer-term population flows end up being the key influencer.  The trick is to foster resilience in local economies and focus on factors that ensure an area remains appealing, even in a cyclical downtown.

JC: What do house prices and technology have in common for regions?

BP: The cost of housing in New Zealand’s biggest cities is obscene and out of reach for most.  This situation has been a boon for regional New Zealand over the past couple of years, where, for the most part, housing is still reasonably priced.

For some wannabe urban exiles, the regions offer pretty good job prospects, but other regional migrants have had to get more creative when it comes to finding employment in a regional setting.  Technology has been the saving grace for many, with remote working having become a reality thanks to fast internet in many parts of the country and increasingly progressive employers doing what it takes to retain valued staff.

JC: You are also on a path to being part of the regional diaspora. Tell us about where you are heading

BP: If this had been a recorded interview, rather than a codified one, you would have already guessed from my r’s that I am not a native Wellingtonian (who is anyway?).  I hail from the Deep South and have always had a yearning to be a mainlander again.  My wife and I are building outside of Queenstown, so that we can be closer to family and friends, as well as have the benefits of the great outdoors at our doorstep. I am lucky that Infometrics does a significant amount of work throughout the South Island and is keen to have an employee who is based in the regions.

JC: How have your travels influenced your work at Infometrics?

BP: My travels have taught me that the status quo is not what anyone or any area has to settle for.  You find the unlikeliest people and enterprises in the unlikeliest places.  Success doesn’t necessarily have to be dictated by the usual rules of the game, in fact breaking the rules is the way we all progress.  Don’t just accept things the way they are if they are not working for you.  Challenge convention and social norms if you know there is a better way of doing things. I like to take that attitude with me through life and in the sort of advice I give to clients.

JC: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

BP: I spend too much time indoors during the working day, so come home time I am desperate to feel the wind in my face. I spend a lot of time biking and walking, whether around town or in the backcountry.  I commute by bike as well – it’s quicker and gives me a chance to clear my head.

JC: What is an intriguing fact about you?

BP: When I was eight years old, I hatched a crazy plan to run a half marathon. I was a pretty headstrong eight-year-old and for some reason my parents let me do it, so long as Dad could be my chaperone.  The race was the Queenstown Half Marathon back when it used to be run at Easter.  I ran with Dad for the first 10km, but he was too slow on the hills so I ditched him.  I ended up running 1hr 37min and he arrived meekly eight or so minutes later.  Dad eventually got the hang of things and, now 22 years later at age 65, is about to run his 14 th Kepler Challenge (60km mountain run over the Kepler Track).

JC: Thanks Benje, for taking the time to tell us about your work and your move to Queenstown.  The Wellington office of Infometrics will miss you but it’s a wonderful excuse to visit you on the South Island.

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