Southlanders a happy bunch

CASSANDRA POKONEY, HANNAH MCLEOD AND LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 09/06/2014
Robyn and Robert Guyton, with their grandson Leo
ROBYN EDIE
CONTENTED RESIDENTS: Riverton couple Robyn and Robert Guyton, with their grandson Leo, 16 months, are happy to call Southland home.

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As a young graduate teacher Robert Guyton had a plan.

It did not involve living in windy, wet Southland.

Fast-forward 28 years and the former Nelson resident has changed his mind.

He is one of the 91 per cent of Southlanders who say they are happy with their lives.

The figure is from the annual Regional Economic Activity Report, a government report that analyses the economic performance of the country's 16 regions.

It rates Southland as one of New Zealand's solid performers and highlights several positive aspects, including employment rates, housing costs, and economic growth.

At 68.9 per cent, Southland has the highest rate of employment in the country, and at 5.2 per cent, one of the lowest rates of unemployment.

Housing costs are the lowest in New Zealand - the median house price is $190,000, and rental spend is an average of $11,000 a year.

Conversely, the average household income is $78,300, higher than all but five of the regions.

The region's gross domestic product of just over $5 billion has grown more than 40 per cent since 2007, driven mostly by large increases in dairy, sheep and beef farming, and manufacturing industries. The per capita contribution of $52,701 is the third-highest in the country, and well above the national figure of $47,532.

But it's not all roses.

The region has the lowest proportion of skilled or highly skilled employment in New Zealand and secondary and tertiary education attainment rates are lower than the national averages, a factor the report says could impact on Southland's ability to grow as new industries develop.

Stabicraft managing director Paul Adams, whose company has been based in Southland since it started in the mid 1980s, said technology meant businesses were no longer limited to big cities to be successful. "These days you could be anywhere in the world."

It also helped that the region had good people and four distinct seasons, he said.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said housing affordability was a huge factor in the region's appeal, as was the way the community rallied to face challenges, such as the collapse of Stadium Southland.

A former Aucklander, he said he had no plans to return north, even once he had given up the mayoral chains. "This is my home now . . . It [Southland] is not flashy, we don't have a Skytower . . . but in a quieter way, the lifestyle is superb."

He reckoned a family had to live in Southland for four or five generations before it could lay claim to the "Southlander" title.

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"I'll never be a Southlander, I accept that . . . but I'm an adopted Southlander," he said.

Guyton, who initially advised his wife against buying a house in Southland, said he had completely changed his mind about the province. The pair bought their Riverton section for $6000 and say the equivalent in Nelson would have cost them 10 times as much.

The climate in Southland was also much milder than people believed, and the food forest they had cultivated in their backyard highlighted one of the prime advantages to living in the south - the ability to grow food.

"There's much more opportunity here, more acceptance from people and more room to do what you want to do . . . Riverton, in particular, satisfies everything I need in Southland," he said.

- The Southland Times

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