Diversity puts region on sound footing

A new measure of New Zealand's regional economies is a mix of the predictable and the surprising.

Statistics New Zealand's first official stocktake of regional gross domestic product has Auckland as the biggest contributor to the national economy at just over a third, followed by Wellington at 14.2 per cent and Canterbury at 12.2 per cent.

Nelson-Tasman comes in 12th of the 15 economies at 1.8 per cent, or $3.4 billion in 2010.

With the size of our population and without a windfall industry such as oil and gas that has fuelled Taranaki's growth, petroleum refining that gives Northland a surprising boost, or the dairy boom that underpins Waikato and Southland we are travelling reasonably well.

That is shown by the region coming in sixth in terms of GDP growth in the survey's 2007-10 measurement period, at a solid 13 per cent.

Much of that growth has been due to agriculture, but the region is among the least reliant on the traditional powerhouse of rural economies, and agriculture comes in only ninth in economic contribution.

While that doesn't work to our advantage as milk prices soar, for example, the volatility of those prices can produce a bumpy ride if a region is too reliant on them.

The Statistics commentary says the Nelson Tasman economy is driven by manufacturing, which includes apple packing, fish processing and wood products; professional, scientific, technical, administrative, and support services; rental hiring and real estate services, and construction.

It says the region is diversified without a large agricultural base.

That in theory should help in the bad times and provide a base for sustainable growth, particularly if clusters such as scientific research continue to develop.

The GDP measure is three years old, but it does at least set a benchmark to measure regional fortunes in future.

The fate of the regions was the focus for Labour's healthy heartland campaign last year when it accused the Government of neglecting regional New Zealand in favour of the big centres.

Leader David Shearer said the Government was "ripping the guts" out of regional New Zealand by focusing on urban centres, and cutting funding in areas such as regional roading and polytechnic funding.

National, which shows no sign of losing its its grip on rural electorates, says that support reflects its economic policies are working by helping promote regional growth.

As with most statistics there is probably something for each view in the new figures, and GDP alone is not a catch-all indicator of an area's health.

The 2013 census figures, released from December, will provide another gauge of our cities and regions, including the likely widening of the imbalance in Auckland's population compared to the rest of the country. That cannot be healthy for Auckland or the country, and is likely to feed into a debate during next year's election campaign.

The Nelson Mail