Whangarei Mayor Morris Cutforth says while retail continues to struggle, farming is healthy and the building industry is starting to take off.
"There's some pretty exciting things happening in Whangarei but I think it will take some time before that shifts to people being employed."
Northland Chamber of Commerce CEO Tony Collins agrees Northland is becoming more buoyant and businesses say they are improving slightly.
The issues are around 9.9 unemployment but there are positives in the pipeline including the potential expansion of deep-water harbour at Northport, the improvements to State Highway 1, Treaty of Waitangi settlements and expansion of the Refining NZ oil refinery.
Northland Regional Council chairman Craig Brown says the biggest thing holding Northland back is an attitude of apathy.
"It's the traditional feeling of ‘who's going to bail us out'. It's the hand-out mentality," he says.
■ First town to roll-out ultra-fast broadband.
■ Growing by 1000 people a year.
■ Improving infrastructure includes the Puhoi to Wellsford road.
■ Highest unemployment in the country.
■ Low wages, poor health statistics and low education.
■ People waiting for a hand-out.
The good news is it's big, progressive and looking to the world. The bad news is it's big, progressive and looking to the world. Auckland's opportunities are in danger of stifling its potential, according to local business and political leaders.
Chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce Michael Barnett said that although the Super City was hailed as a bastion of governmental and administrative functionality, it has also seen some serious delays that are threatening to slow down the city's development.
Young business executive Nigel Fowler said Auckland was heading in the right direction but needed to attract more people into the central city.
“People seem to think the CBD isn't lively enough. Our active part of the town needs to be the city.”
Deputy mayor Penny Hulse said that despite the challenges there was optimism in the air.
"Regardless of opinions from some, including some politicians, the super city is working.”
■ Population size.
■ Entry place for new business into New Zealand.
■ Redevelopment of the waterfront.
■ Danger of stalled infrastructure projects.
■ Dislocation of smaller communities.
■ High cost of living.
The mood in the Waikato, where $1 billion worth of development is under way and the Chiefs beat the Sharks in the Super 15 final and the Magic scooped the trans-Tasman netball trophy, is buoyant.
Projects include the building of The Base shopping centre to the north of Hamilton, the upgrading of Waikato Hospital's building in the south and Mighty River Power's plans for a new riverside complex at the heart of the city.
"We are talking in excess of $1 billion in major developments," said Mike Pohio, chief executive of Tainui Group Holdings.
John Cook, chief executive of manufacturer Stainless Design said the government's abolition of the research and development tax credit and the establishment of a new research and development scheme was a great help.
Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said the biggest issue facing the region was management of the Waikato River and how the water was taken and used in the urban and rural areas.
"Fifty per cent of the New Zealand GDP is generated out of the Golden Triangle of Auckland, the Waikato and Tauranga. Getting more production and more growth is a challenge."
■ More than $1bn worth of developments.
■ Improvements in the road network.
■ Achievements of the region's sports heroes.
■ Not every business is enjoying a resurgence.
■ Education and health statistics could be better.
■ The exchange rate is too high.
BAY OF PLENTY
Bob the builder is in a gloomy mood. Bob Clarkson, Tauranga's biggest industrial builder, says the market is "very, very tight at the moment".
The former National Party associate housing spokesman has laid off half his staff. One of the problems is lack of quality industrial land and the other is tenants hesitant about signing leases.
It's a sad situation, because industrial construction is usually the sector that leads economic recovery.
"I sincerely hope we get out of this hole. I think we will in 12 months maybe, but I've been saying that for two years now."
Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby agrees the construction sector is struggling, and says retailers are also "fragile".
Otherwise, the mood in the area is "resilient".
The two major disasters to hit the area - the Rena grounding and the Psa kiwifruit disease - have had mixed impacts on business, he says.
"Some companies have done incredibly well supplying goods and services to salvors, but it's impacted on inshore fishers and some tourism operators.”
■ Strong port.
■ Strong primary sector.
■ Manufacturing/exporting steady.
■ Construction sector slow.
■ Retail slow.
■ Psa disease in kiwifruit.
Taupo's economy is based around farming, tourism and forestry.
The region of 30,000 people has been protected from the worst of the economic downturn by major construction projects in the past four years - the $110 million SH1 bypass, conversion of forestry for dairying and billion-dollar investments by Mighty River Power and Contact in geothermal power generation.
As a major tourist destination, the town has not escaped the drop-off from international visitors numbers caused by the global recession. Lodge owner John Boddy estimates in the past four years visitor numbers had dropped 40 per cent and the town now needed to be marketed better. He tells how a group of American golfers, staying at Wairakei did not know there was a lake nearby.
■ Central location for holiday makers close to major tourist attractions.
■ Safe, clean living environment.
■ Visitor industry keeps unemployment low.
■ Lack of high income work.
■ Failure by council to attract large businesses.
■ Relatively high cost of living and housing.
Masterton district Councillor Gary Caffell said that, although "optimistic by nature", people in Wairarapa were cautious about the future.
"Rates are a big one, people are hurting financially and our rates are high.
"Particularly older people or people on fixed incomes, they're struggling at the moment as things like power hikes come in as well.
Federated Farmers board member Anders Crofoot said farmers were keeping an eye on falling dairy and lamb prices, as well as "horrendous" wool prices.
Wairarapa DHB chair and former Masterton mayor Bob Francis said almost zero population growth was a "real issue", but the farming sector was helping Wairarapa through the worst of it.
The biggest positive was the growing appetite to merge the three district councils of South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton into a unitary authority, he said.
■ Momentum towards a single Wairarapa council
■ Improved tourism numbers
■ Arrival of James Cameron
■ Stagnant economy
■ Cautious farming outlook
■ Almost zero population growth
There is a cloud hanging over Hawke's Bay, but its shape differs depending on who you talk to.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said people were worried about the tight job market. If the region could extend its food production further then high quality jobs would follow.
Yule said the disjointed nature of the region was holding Hawke's Bay back but Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott believed the talk around the amalgamation of Napier city and Hastings district councils was having a negative effect on the region.
Although primary industry had kept the region afloat, Arnott worried the gap between the haves and the have-nots was widening.
“New Zealand used to be egalitarian but it is no longer."
Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson said the region needed a game changer like the $230 million Ruataniwha water storage project.
The scheme involves building a dam on the Makaroro River and increasing the amount of irrigable land on the plains, west of Waipawa.
■ Quality of life.
■ Ruataniwha Water Storage.
■ The gap between the haves and the have-nots, low wages and a high percentage of welfare dependency.
■ The broken Napier-Gisborne rail line.
Taranaki is fortunate that it benefits from black and white gold - oil and milk - which cushions it from economic pressures, say Taranaki leaders.
Stuart Trundle, the chief executive Venture Taranaki says that, given the amount of national wealth Taranaki creates it deserves far more national investment than its population might suggest.
"We're suggesting the Government needs to back winning regional economies." Leaders say the region has a resilient population with a tradition of focusing on doing things for itself rather than holding out their hands.
Trundle says the key to Taranaki's future is population growth but one issue - the ticking time bomb - is the an ageing population.
Therefore it's important New Plymouth presents itself as an attractive and cosmopolitan place to live.
■ Diversity of people, from international oil workers to farmers.
■ The combined economic strength of dairy and energy industries.
■ Natural beauty.
■ Lack of population growth.
■ Relative isolation.
■ Lack of necessary infrastructure for economic development.
Manawatu trucks along, shielded from the worst effects of the economic downturn its leaders say, but a dip in the road could be coming.
Palmerston North businessman Paul O'Brien said being home to the Ohakea air force and Linton Army camps, Massey University and several polytechnics gave the region economic stability.
Chief executive of regional tourism promoter Destination Manawatu Lance Bickford said Palmerston North was becoming "the important city" for the lower North Island.
"We're telling our story in a different way. This is who we are and we enjoy living here, we're finding our voice, we've stopped apologising."
There were challenges too, such as the year-long closure of the Manawatu Gorge, the main road link to the Hawke's Bay. Bickford said the impending loss of the region's daily commuter train to Wellington would damage its suitability as a home for some people.
■ Home to defence facilities, tertiary education provides, farmers and manufacturers.
■ Investment in Transmission Gully.
■ Retail spending has increased in the region.
■ Manawatu Gorge closure.
■ Economic uncertainty.
■ The impending loss of the rail service to Wellington.
The Wellington Company managing director Ian Cassels reckons Wellington is suffering from a squeeze on the Government sector.
It was "crunch time" for the capital, with a need for direct flights to Asia, a resolution of the earthquake "fug", getting Government to house itself centrally, and getting diesel buses out of the city.
"Do these things and we will thrive and take our place along the great little cities of the world - don't and we will drift into being a provincial town of dwindling significance."
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the capital has had recent success in the "weightless economy", citing Wellington start-up company Xero being valued at $600 million and needing to employ 100 more people, Sidhe Interactive "becoming a global force in gaming apps", and STQRY's entry into the US market.
"Gauging the mood of Wellington depends on how far ahead you want to look, and there's ample good news about Wellington's future."
■ A booming film industry.
■ A walkable city with a buzzing centre and heaps of events.
■ Close to mountains, sea, and nature.
■ Investment in Auckland and Christchurch at the expense of Wellington.
■ Earthquake strengthening.
■ Public sector cuts.
Otago residents are feeling the impact of Canterbury's quakes, provincial leaders say.
“You don't have to scratch very deep to see the impacts have been far wider than just Canterbury in terms of loss of economic value, “ Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie said.
Tourism numbers were down and Government funding for infrastructure such as roading has plummeted.
Otago was reeling from last year's large-scale school closures in Dunedin and redundancies at KiwiRail's Hillside engineering workshops.
Dunedin mayor Dave Cull said that, despite this, there was a buzz in Dunedin as council consulted on a series of future-proofing strategies.
There was still anger over the debt created by the region's new $200m roofed stadium in Dunedin.
Gillian Bremner, Presbyterian Support Otago director, said there was a refreshed sense of community for areas around Otago, sparked when people responded to quake-devastated Christchurch.
■ Large public sector
■ Increasing community spirit.
■ Education and environmental assets.
■ Economic impact of the Canterbury earthquakes.
■ Redundancy and job losses.
■ Energy costs.
The West Coast's economy is underpinned by mining, farming and tourism.
All three have been hit hard by the global recession, the Christchurch earthquakes, the Pike River mine disaster and last week's suspension of work at Spring Creek. "It was a perfect storm," Grey district mayor Tony Kokshoorn says.
Since then, farming has "hit some speed wobbles" and a dropping coal price has led to state-owned coal miner Solid Energy threatening to downscale mining activities.
"I've been around long enough to know everything is cyclical and if we position ourselves right, we will be ready for a new growth phase,” Kokshoorn says.
Rod Quin, chief executive Westland Milk Products says the high dollar is largely thanks to Kiwi resilience during the recession, despite it causing challenges for those selling products on the international market.
"It does reflect a macro-economic view that New Zealand has come through the recession better than some areas. New Zealanders need to realise what they've got compared to many in the world is very very good.”
■ Natural resources.
■ Strong sense of community.
■ Untapped potential.
■ Remoteness and smallness.
■ Dependence on primary industries.
The region faces challenges unlike any other part of the country, after the February 2011 earthquake devastated Christchurch's central business district and forced thousands of residents out of their homes.
Many residents have grown frustrated with a lack of certainty about their futures, with insurance companies under pressure to provide answers about when people will be able to rebuild their homes.
But the recent release of a Government-led blueprint for the rebuild of central Christchurch has led to increased optimism.
Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the plan showed that the Government was committed to the rebuilding process.
"With everything we've been through, we just get on with it. We're staunch."
Christchurch Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button said there was growing optimism within the region. "I feel like we're making history, that's what keeps me going - it's a privileged place to be in, even though it's stressful."
■ Predicted post-quake boom.
■ Government's new plan for central Christchurch.
■ Quakes have brought Canterbury residents closer together.
■ Residents across the city are still battling for answers from their insurers.
■ Emotional, financial and physical suffering.
■ The rebuild is expected to take at least a decade.
Export-led Southland did not escape the global recession and continues to grapple with the high value of the dollar, unemployment and a lack of consumer spending.
But Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt believes it has come through the worst.
Event tourism boosted the region, and international entertainment acts, competitions and filmmakers were attracted to the province, he said.
Community Trust of Southland chief executive John Prendergast said dairying was still propelling the Southland economy, but it remained a challenge to balance its benefit to the economy and environmental consequences.
Although people were optimistic they still recognised times would be difficult for a while.
"In a recession there are worse places to be than Southland," he said.
South Port chief executive Mark O'Connor said "the broad population are proud to be from Southland, we just get on and do stuff here."
■ Export based businesses.
■ Southern Institute of Technology's zero fees education.
■ Doubt hanging over the smelter at Tiwai near Bluff.
■ Potential resistance to development of energy resources.
■ Static population.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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