Nelson Tasman is experiencing growth matching that of the region's last boom at the beginning of the new millennium, says Nelson Regional Economic Agency chief executive Bill Findlater.
A Canterbury-led population mini-surge is more than making up for an exodus of Nelsonians to Australia, put at nearly 1000 people last year.
"According to the figures from our last Tracking the Nelson Regional Economy [survey] dated February 2012 we show a growth of 1500 domestic relocations, the majority of which would be from Christchurch," says Mr Findlater.
"Our next report is just about to get under way but won't be available until August ... we anticipate the trend to continue. This trend is similar to that in the boom period from 2001-2006."
Mr Findlater said he had spoken to only one business owner who had shifted here but was still effectively working in Christchurch.
"Anecdotally, I've heard of others but they are self-contained, won't create additional jobs and could operate from anywhere."
Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dot Kettle says some Christchurch businesses are relocating here permanently.
"We're predominantly seeing this from 'business advisory' type services – they have the ability to easily relocate as they are working in the 'knowledge' area and don't need to re-establish large or specialist work forces, machinery or equipment."
Like Mr Findlater, Ms Kettle says a range of "fabulous strengths" make Nelson especially attractive.
"These include a broad and diverse primary base [forestry, fishing, horticulture] with a strong urban-based business environment which supports that, combined with some of the finest research, science and innovation capability in the country.
"The opportunity to develop and grow businesses that add value is huge – we have the primary base, the businesses to support and the talent and entrepreneurial spirit to commercialise great research ideas.
"Another key advantage is our strong and collegial business environment – you see collaboration and co-operation [to compete in world markets] fostered and supported in almost every sector and industry."
Uniquely Nelson manager Cathy Madigan also talks of "anecdotal" evidence of more people relocating from Canterbury.
She said that on Paymark figures last week, Nelson-Tasman led the country, with an 8.4 per cent surge in spending last month compared with May 2011.
The quake-heightened drift north is expected to continue until 2017, according to a Christchurch survey company.
The Opinions Market Research poll of 359 Christchurch city, Waimakarari and Selwyn district residents released this month predicts nearly 55,000 people will leave Canterbury within the next five years.
Up to 5500 of them will move to Nelson province if the survey matches reality.
OMR director Karen Selway admits the figure is not robust.
"It is intention only, so it may change.
"A key aspect to these findings is how popular the Nelson area is to Christchurch residents as a place to live and that Nelson is likely to see a large proportion of Christchurch residents that relocate."
Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne says his district had the highest population growth in New Zealand last year, at 1.7 per cent.
"We will really benefit from the next census – whenever it is carried out – as we will then be able to quantify what growth has occurred and where."
He said the council tried to encourage businesses which were high-quality and high-value, "but we are all aware that business conditions are generally tight".
Tasman's environment and planning manager Dennis Bush-King said rating advice changes and building consent applications from Canterbury addresses had been sufficient to "make the observation that [a drift north] seems to be happening more than pre-earthquake", but few hard numbers were available.
"We have seen a steady number of building consents for new dwellings – monthly issues have been about 11th highest of all local authorities at around 24 houses a month [but still down on last year's average of 30 houses a month].
"Council forecast planning is for the population to increase from 48,000 to 50,000 from last year to 2016."
Nelson City Council manager – strategic response, Chris Ward, says latest Statistics New Zealand projections suggest Nelson's population had increased by more than 300 over previous predictions.
It was up by 730 on the figure for June 2010, according to the projection last October.
The city's population as at June last year was estimated at 46,200.
Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio said the earthquakes had helped highlight the need for the region to develop innovative strategies to attract investment and encourage growth.
"We definitely welcome new business and new families to the region."
Equally, the past two years had shown there could not be a kneejerk reaction to disaster.
Development strategies could not be developed overnight, and were about identifying and encouraging opportunities nationally and internationally and not simply responding to the "extremely unfortunate" situation facing Canterbury, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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