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Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce releases the NZIER report at Cawthron Institute
8 October 2015

Report highlights significant impact of New Zealand’s first science organisation

Exactly 100 years after Nelson philanthropist Thomas Cawthron left the bulk of his fortune to establish New Zealand's first science organisation, a new report has highlighted the significant scientific and economic benefits his legacy still delivers for New Zealand.

The NZIER report released today by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, highlights that Nelson-based Cawthron Institute is a major economic contributor to the Nelson region with a national and global reach, and its future successes could boost New Zealand's GDP by $201.7m and create 539 jobs. The scientific research it undertakes "is essential to a number of New Zealand's industries and exports" the report states.

"This report emphasises the outstanding benefits regional research centres can deliver for New Zealand, and recognises our important contribution to regional economic development, social diversity and high-skill jobs," Cawthron Chief Executive Professor Charles Eason says.

"We've worked hard to get to where we are today. We're proud of the work we do and the difference our research makes to our region and New Zealand's environment and economy."

Cawthron Institute, now New Zealand's largest independently-owned science organisation, was officially opened in 1921 following Thomas Cawthron's death on 8 October, 1915. At the time, his bequest was the single biggest philanthropic gift in New Zealand.

"Cawthron Institute's continued success is a testament to the incredible legacy Thomas Cawthron left behind," Cawthron Institute Chair Ian Kearney says.

"Thanks to his inspiring vision 100 years ago, we have this world-leading science organisation, with 200 top scientists and specialist staff who every day are solving big scientific problems for the benefit of New Zealand's environment and economy."

The Government earlier this year held Cawthron Institute up as an exemplar for how to deliver regional science. In the 2015 budget announcement, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce revealed $25 million over three years for new privately-led Regional Research Institutes, 'modelled along the lines of Nelson's Cawthron Institute'.

Mr Kearney says the report proves that investing in regional research is an excellent way to deliver economic returns and can attract international investment for the regions.

"We believe Cawthron Institute provides a good prototype for the Government's initiatives for regional development," he says. "We would be really happy to see other regions benefit from a model such as ours and would be keen to work with any regions that may be considering science institute establishment, and provide them with whatever assistance we can."

Key highlights of the NZIER report:

  • Significant employer: Cawthron is one of Nelson's largest employers with 200 employees (up from 40 staff 25 years ago) and a monthly payroll of around $1 million
  • Economic success: Cawthron's turnover has grown from $18 million to $23 million over the last three years. Its future success could boost New Zealand's GDP by $201.7 million and create 539 jobs
  • Leading exporter: Over 90 percent of Cawthron's services are exports from Nelson to the rest of the country or overseas, bringing much needed employment and investment to the region. Cawthron is believed to be the largest exporter of business services in the Nelson region. It represents 25 percent of Nelson business service sector exports, contributes $14 million in added value to the local economy, and indirectly creates 91 jobs
  • Global reach: Cawthron has an increasingly global economic footprint. Its export earnings have doubled in value over the last two years and now account for around 10 percent of its total revenue. Over the past three years it has achieved over $3 million in annual export earnings largely as a result of selling high-tech analytical services and products to several countries including Australia, the USA, Japan and in Europe. It has longstanding international research collaborations with leading research organisations world-wide including Japan, USA, China, Australia, France and the United Kingdom. 
  • Science quality: High quality science capability with annual peer-reviewed Cawthron publications more than doubling over the past five years from 35 in 2010 to 75 last year.
  • Research commercialisation: Cawthron has proven success in applied research that can be scaled up by industry for commercial production and development, particularly for aquaculture where this model has been implemented for Greenshell™ mussels and Pacific oysters (case studies included in report). Research projects are underway to repeat the model for at least four other species. 
  • Unique business model: Cawthron brings together three factors that create its unique value proposition. Its science capabilities, geographical location advantages and the strength of its industry relationships come together to produce a solid track record of technology transfer and commercialisation. About half its revenue is from Government with the remainder from private sector clients
  • Education partnerships: Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) and Cawthron collaborate to provide tertiary-level education to aquaculture students, sharing facilities with scientists and industry. The partnership has seen NMIT establish a teaching facility at Cawthron Aquaculture Park, ensuring education is well aligned with industry and researchers

The event at Cawthron Institute today was attended by key stakeholders and business leaders including representatives from Nelson City, Marlborough and Tasman District councils, Nelson Economic Development Agency, Nelson Chamber of Commerce, Nelson Tasman Tourism, NMIT and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

*The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) is a specialist consulting firm that uses applied economic research and analysis to provide a wide range of strategic advice to clients in the public and private sectors, throughout New Zealand and Australia, and further afield.

For more information please contact:

Ian Kearney Chairman, Cawthron Institute
Phone: +64 21 998 713

Professor Charles Eason Chief Executive, Cawthron Institute
Phone: +64 3 548 2319 ext 270 or +64 21 224 0028

Media Liaison 

Mariam El Orfi, Communications Adviser, Cawthron Institute
Phone: 03 539 3212 or 027 637 2054