Report shines light on Marlborough economy

Because of the wine industry, Marlborough was the the fourth largest contributor to the horticulture and fruit-growing ...
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Because of the wine industry, Marlborough was the the fourth largest contributor to the horticulture and fruit-growing industries, and the third largest contributor to the food, beverage and tobacco product manufacturing industry.

While Marlborough workers may be less skilled compared with the rest of the country, chances are they will have fewer problems finding a job, according to a new report on regional economies.

The annual Regional Economic Development Report, now in its third year, was released last week by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce. 

The report provides a breakdown of each of the 16 regional economies to understand the drivers and constraints that influence regional growth.

Marlborough was described as having a small, export-focused economy with industry specialisation that reflected its natural resources. The region contributed 1 per cent toward New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product, with 1 per cent of the overall population.

This equated to about $2.2 billion annually. 

Marlborough Chamber of Commerce general manager Hamish Macfarlane said the report was "confidence building".

"Marlborough is doing as good if not better than other regions, if you strip out the main centres," he said.

Compared with the national average, Marlborough had a higher employment rate, lower level of unemployment, cheaper average house prices and cheaper rent.

But the region had a lower level of skilled workers.

More than half of all those employed, at 52.1 per cent, were in skilled or highly skilled jobs, but this was lower than the national average of 58.6 per cent.

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The greying population was also highlighted; Marlborough had the highest proportion of people over the age of 65, at 20.9 per cent, compared with the New Zealand average of 14.4 per cent. It also had the lowest proportion of people under the age of 25, at 28 per cent, compared with the New Zealand average of 34.4 per cent.

Marlborough District Council economic development manager Neil Henry said an aging population could mean there would be more people on fixed incomes, meaning they would be less likely to afford some services.

Employment and education were two ways to attract more young people to Marlborough, he said.

The council was planning to promote the region as a good place to live, work and study through the marlboroughnz.com website, he added.

The report also highlighted the importance of primary industries to the Marlborough economy.

Because of the wine industry, the region was the the fourth largest contributor to the horticulture and fruit-growing industries, and the third largest contributor to the food, beverage and tobacco product manufacturing industry. 

Wine Marlborough chairman Clive Jones said before the wine industry was established, people used to drive through Blenheim and Marlborough.

"It's hugely important to Marlborough's economy, and New Zealand's economy, too," he said.

In the year ending December 2014, wine was the 11th most valuable export commodity in the country, worth $1.35 billion.

Marlborough wine exports made up about $1.1 billion of this, making the region a major contributor to New Zealand exports, Jones said.

The wine industry also returned profits to the Marlborough economy - supporting retail and other businesses; added cultural diversity through Recognised Seasonal Employer workers and international workers; brought more skilled people to the region; and gave visitors a reason to come to Marlborough, he said.

Macfarlane agreed.

Without the primary industries, Blenheim would be a sleepy little town, he said.

Other growth sectors identified by the report included the horticulture, food manufacturing, fishing and forestry industries.

Collectively, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries employed more than 6000 people in the region, making them the biggest employers ahead of the manufacturing industry. 

Standard of Living

The Regional Economic Activity Report showed household incomes in Marlborough were increasing while rent and house prices remained relatively low.

The average household income in the region was $83,550, the eighth highest in the country - although this was distorted by the high number of older people without fixed incomes.

Wellington, Auckland, Canterbury and Otago had the highest incomes, with Southland the next comparable region on $87,391.

Nelson had an average household income of $83,677, with Tasman and the West Coast both on $82,409.

Having a relatively high average income, combined with lower rents and house prices, made Marlborough a desirable place to live, Macfarlane said. 

The average weekly rent in Marlborough was $282, the seventh lowest in the country, while the median house price was $313,000, $117,000 less than the national median.

However, Marlborough Budgeting Services president Neville White said there was no evidence the cost of living was cheaper in Marlborough.

Finding a rental property for less than $250 to $300 was difficult, he said.

For single income households it was very difficult to make ends meet, especially if they were on minimum wage, he said.

The most common household income bracket in Marlborough was $30,001 to $50,000, with 18 per cent. 

Once rent, electricity, rates and groceries were taken into account, even households at the upper end of the spectrum would have little discretionary spending left, White said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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