Southland economic ranking a mystery

An economic snapshot of Southland rates the region poorly for employment opportunities, but the result has baffled experts.

The ASB Regional Economic Scoreboard takes the latest quarterly regional statistics and ranks the economic performance of New Zealand's 16 regional council areas.

Ratings are updated every three months, and are based on measures such as employment, construction, retail trade, and house prices.

The quarterly report for December 2013, released yesterday, ranks Southland in last place.

Southland was also ranked last the previous quarter.

ASB economist Christina Leung said that although housing-market activity was low and new-car sales fell, it was a lack of job opportunities that seemed to be holding the region back.

In contrast to the national economy, Southland's unemployment rate had crept up during the past year, although it remained below the national rate, she said.

"We were quite surprised and it has puzzled us how this can be the case with the dairy sector performing well," she said.

It was hard to say which specific employment sector was driving the decline, she said.

Venture Southland's enterprise and strategic projects group manager, Steve Canny, said the quarterly report was only a snapshot in time and not a fair indicator.

Seasonal activity had a strong influence over the workforce in the region and he believed a slow start to the tourism sector could have affected the results.

The Southland Times asked some of the region's biggest employers about their employment during this period.

A New Zealand Aluminium Smelters spokeswoman said the Tiwai Pt smelter currently had seven vacancies. It had employed 27 people since the start of December 2013, which was unusual, she said.

She cited a recruitment freeze most of last year during a maintenance restructure as the reason.

Alliance Group's general manager of processing, Kerry Stevens, said the number of vacancies at its plants varied from week to week, but it typically employed 300 to 500 new workers each season.

Fonterra's managing director for people, culture and strategy, Maury Leyland, said Fonterra had hired 11 new team members at operator level in Southland in the last quarter.

The Southland Times