'Zombie' precautions

ZOMBIE TOWN: Manawatu mayor Margaret Kouvelis.
ZOMBIE TOWN: Manawatu mayor Margaret Kouvelis.

There is little fear around Feilding that it faces a future as a "zombie town".

Despite debate about the effect of low incomes and declining populations on small towns nationwide, Manawatu mayor Margaret Kouvelis is not concerned.

NZIER principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub, whose report prompted the debate, deserved respect for raising a difficult issue, she said.

"Political leaders need to have the courage to initiate conversations around demographic decline in rural New Zealand and the importance of immigration to this country's future."

Kouvelis believes no-one can pick which towns will be the "winners or losers" but she believes the wider district attracts talented and entrepreneurial residents. Its "brain hubs", such as Massey and the Crown institutes, will thrive and attract more high-paying jobs.

"This is not a unique problem to New Zealand. Actual jobs are going to be in the intellectual and economic hubs. This means small towns and villages will still continue to thrive, provided they are offering a lifestyle that complements the workers who may commute to their jobs."

Manawatu District, which has enjoyed a 5.3 per cent population growth since 2006, is faring better than its neighbours, which are experiencing declines.

New ways of creating retail opportunities through ventures such as farmers' markets, craft markets and other social enterprises were needed, the mayor said.

Towns where most people were on low incomes would not survive.

"The beauty of Feilding is it has a cross-section of income, culture, talent and volunteers.

"I believe that celebrating human capital and innovation is fundamental to economic development and prosperity to all. It's about investing in people."

Feilding Promotion is working on a marketing project suggesting the opposite to Eaqub's view: ‘Leave the City - Love the Country'. The hope is that visitors who spend time in the town will fall in love and return to live.

Manawatu Standard