Manawatu population on the rise

LISA KNIGHT
Last updated 12:00 06/06/2014

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A decline in people leaving Manawatu to move overseas and the continuing immigration boom has given a boost to the region, an economic report says.

The high milk pay-out price, more immigrants and a rise in visitor spending were supporting growth in the region, the Manawatu Quarterly Economic Monitor report for the March quarter, released yesterday by Infometrics, shows.

Net migration increased by 581 people from last year, with a net gain of 285 people in the year to March compared with a net loss of 296 people in the year to March 2013.

Palmerston North City Council economic policy advisor Peter Crawford said the increase indicated growing confidence in the region.

While the report shows the unemployment rate at 7.2 per cent was higher than the national average of 6 per cent, it meant more people were staying in the region despite having no job, Crawford said.

"Whether it's what's happening in Australia or if people think job prospects are better here, we don't know," he said.

"The unemployment rate increase is a little bit of a downer but the big drop in people leaving means they think it's better to stay here without a job than go to Australia."

Vision Manawatu chief executive Alan Cockrell welcomed the data showing an improvement in annual net migration to the region. Manawatu's central location, proximity to Massey University, research institutes, defence bases, logistics and distribution industries were drivers in attracting people to the region, Cockrell said.

"It's logical to come here if you're in those areas because we have the competitive advantage."

Infometrics gross domestic product (GDP) estimates for the March quarter suggest GDP growth in the region was 2.9 per cent up over the March quarter last year, which is almost double the rate of the annual increase for the year to March 2014.

GDP growth in the Manawatu region was 1.5 per cent in the year to March, reflecting weak growth back in the June quarter in 2013, the report said.

It also found Manawatu's retail sector had an increase in electronic card spending at 6.3 per cent compared to last year, while national growth was at 5.6 per cent.

Crawford said retail data was also a good indicator of employment.

Visitor spending was also up with domestic visitors spending 10.6 per cent more in Palmerston North than last year while domestic visitor spending nationally only increased by 1.5 per cent.

International visitor spending in the city was 9 per cent higher.

Commercial accommodation guest nights in Manawatu increased by 5.8 per cent while national guest nights increased by 4.2 per cent. Destination Manawatu chief executive Lance Bickford said the data showed the region was continuing to experience strong growth in tourism.

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Non-residential building consents to the value of $66 million were issued during the year, an increase of 6.8 per cent, slightly behind the national increase of 11.4 per cent.

Residential building consents were down 13.7 per cent compared with the same 12-month period last year, while the national economy increased by 28.6 per cent.

Crawford said building consent figures were volatile from month to month and with more people staying in the region he expected to see an increase in building activity in the coming months.

Car registrations also increased by 34.9 per cent and commercial car registrations were up 15.7 per cent.

The Manawatu Quarterly Economic Monitor is produced by Infometrics for Palmerston North City Council and a copy of the full report can be found at pncc.govt.nz

- Manawatu Standard

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