Fears farm workers may quit to join rebuild

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 05:00 25/09/2012

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Rebuilding Christchurch

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The labour drain from Canterbury farms to urban rebuild jobs could leave the real powerhouse of the Mainland economy high and dry, threatening the long-term recovery of the region, the Canterbury Development Corporation says.

Last week the Christchurch City Council-owned economic planning agency held a small seminar outlining its role and heralding a revised regional prosperity plan due for release early next year.

CDC issued the original 20year Christchurch Economic Development Strategy a month before the first Canterbury quake.

"Because of the quakes, obviously, it needed a refresher," CDC chief executive Tom Hooper said.

Most of the core goals were the same as before the quakes: an efficient economy focused on its strengths, a need to attract and retain working-age people, and to improve wages and standards of living in Christchurch, he said.

"The key long-term goals haven't changed. It finishes up as creating a good quality of life."

The city needed to ensure the economic growth that helped achieve those goals was sustainable and inflation was controlled, he said.

It also needed to retain balance in the economy.

"You're going to be paid an awful lot of money to pick up a hammer - in fact, it's already happening," Hooper said.

Most people likely to have rudimentary construction skills would be in the farming sector, which was the region's only sector with global scale, he said.

If farming workers left in droves for inflated wages in the city, the economy could take a large, drawn-out hit.

Especially as the quakes had highlighted how much of a pillar the rural economy was to the region, he said.

Hooper spent most of his time speaking to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, its Christchurch Central Development Unit, the city council and Environment Canterbury.

The CDC did not have a mandate to work on the rebuild, but it was responsible for the long-term economic planning that would guide the city's recovery. The quality of the city's rebuild would in turn influence the city's economics and development planning.

It needed lots of money to ensure a strong boom and continuing growth, he said.

With that money paying for new and well-made infrastructure and buildings, the foundation of Christchurch's future economic performance would be stronger.

The agencies were sharing information constantly and the Government-run agencies were "fantastic" to deal with, he said.

CDC had done the background modelling for the plan, which would be used as an advisory tool by the city council, based on extensive consultation with businesses and statistics.

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In about a month and a half, the strategy would be shared for feedback with the city council, Cera and its inner city unit, and CDC's go-to businesses.

There were many up-and-coming younger businesspeople in the city who needed to be brought into the fold, and there were other people who had plenty of top-level overseas experience who needed to "get back in the game", he said. "The traditional, small group of people that has run Christchurch has got to be bigger."

The city council gives the CDC most of its money. The rest is from the Government.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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