Having rural-based economies is causing people to leave the wider Manawatu region, mayors say, but there are plans to get them back.
Although figures from Statistics New Zealand show Manawatu's population is likely to grow by 0.5 per cent each year, Horowhenua, Tararua and Rangitikei are all set to lose people, albeit to varying degrees.
Rangitikei Mayor Chalky Leary said the projected 0.7 per cent per year population drop in his district was typical of most of rural New Zealand.
Rising land values on farms was making it hard for people to make money out of agriculture, so people buying farmland were often neighbours or foreigners, he said.
"I'm a pragmatist - you've got to take it on the chin."
This had led the council to look at using towns around Palmerston North as growth points.
"Marton and Bulls are likely to hold their own because of the Palmy thing - people will move and commute into the city," Mr Leary said.
Spending vast amounts of money to attract people was not an option.
"We cannot spend ratepayers' money willy-nilly. We are limited in what we can actually do."
Horowhenua Mayor Brendan Duffy said he was happy with the way in which the district was performing, with the population change looking flat with a 0.1 per cent fall a year.
"I think if it remains static in the current climate we are working in, we're doing damn well.
"Rural and provincial New Zealand has been hammered."
The main challenge in attracting people to the area was showing off Horowhenua's business opportunities, he said.
"We need more industries to know and to see the opportunities available here. They're all there, it's just a matter of those businesses seeing them."
The region's close proximity to Wellington and strength in horticulture were positive assets that had to be built on, he said.
Tararua Mayor Roly Ellis said the district had a tough time for a while, but was starting to bounce back.
The prediction was for Tararua's population to drop by 0.2 per cent each year, but Mr Ellis said it was likely to go the other way.
"We believe we bottomed out at about 17,500, and we think - but we're not 100 per cent sure - that actually we're going up steadily."
Some farms had been hit, particularly as forestry moved in, he said.
"We have lost quite a bit of farming land to forestry, which [reduces] the population.
"A lot of forestry workers come from outside the district." However, Mr Ellis said there was money to be made in the rural economy, especially for companies working in specialised areas such as fertiliser production and distribution.
It was hoped a street upgrade in Woodville would bring in more retailers, as would pushing Tararua as a "through district". "A lot of people pass through as they drive from [Hawke's] Bay to Wellington, or Wellington to the Bay."
Manawatu Mayor Margaret Kouvelis could not be reached for comment.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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