The fictional character Pollyanna found something to be glad about in every situation and has become synonymous with optimism, particularly when it is unrealistic.
There is often something Pollyanna-ish in the way statistics are interpreted by business groups, usually because they cleave to the view that being negative will only make things worse. However, the latest report on this region's economy by the Nelson Economic Development Agency does not shirk from pointing out that it has identified many minuses as well as some pluses in its fact-finding.
In his introductory summary, chief executive Bill Findlater contrasts seven areas of concern with four "bright spots". His concerns centre on employment - shrinkage in full-time job opportunities, a lack of work for young people, and pressure on what openings there are because of increased migration into the region. He also notes a reduced international tourist spend, lower building consent numbers hitting the construction industry and likely to create medium-term housing pressure and, given that 30 per cent of the region's GDP depends on the primary sector, exposure to fallout from Europe's sovereign debt crisis and continuing uncertainty in eurozone economies.
This is not to say that Nelson or the country is drowning in an ocean of bad economic news. Mr Findlater's "bright spots" are a net increase in full-time jobs - in contrast to his concerns about the future - higher retail spending, particularly in the December quarter, household incomes rising in line with national trends and an influx of Canterbury people with new skills, experience and knowledge. Still, his conclusion is downbeat: "The outlook for the economy in the coming 12 months remains one of caution where demands for regional products and services will be dependent on exports and a continued improvement in consumer spending." There's no Pollyanna in that, and nor should there be.
Some might seize on a few positive indicators to suggest that the region is in for good economic times. It is, of course, to be hoped that they are right, but it is a blinkered view that tends to overlook local, national and international factors that stand in the way. Empty storefronts dotted around commercial centres are a clear sign that all is not well in the retail world. Orchardists, long a mainstay of Nelson, are facing one battle after another, the latest being an infestation of european canker that has seen tens of thousands of trees pulled out. China's slowing economy has caused demand for timber and dairy products to slacken. The fishing industry, another Nelson success story, is being hit by the double blow of high fuel prices and the disadvantageous exchange rate that affects all exporters. Looming large is the worsening European recession.
All of these factors must be considered in any forecast for Nelson. Businessman and civic leader Ian Kearney injected some good sense yesterday when he suggested that it was wise to be "very careful" around making projections from some of the positive figures that have emerged around regional economic improvement. Optimism is good, and tends to feed on itself. It has to be tempered with realism, though.
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