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3 Mar 20: Waipā tourism highest growth in NZ

It’s official – Waipa’s economy is booming. Tourism, business growth and the primary sector drove huge economic growth in the Waipā district in 2019.

Waipā district recorded the third highest economic growth across New Zealand over the 12 months to December 2019 with a figure of 5.1 per cent growth. Information from the Infometrics quarterly economic monitor was reported at Waipā District Council’s Strategic Planning and Policy Committee today.

Waipā as a go-to tourism destination is thriving with the district recording the highest growth rate in New Zealand at 14 per cent for tourism spend.

The primary sector was also a winner with meat and dairy prices remaining higher than previous years. At this point in time, Waipā expects an additional $67m from the higher milk pay-out in the 2019/20 season, with total pay-out currently estimated at $526m.

The five fastest growing sectors for Waipā were health care and social assistance, construction, education and training, public administration and safety, accommodation and food services contributing 524 jobs to the district.

Non-residential building consents growth rate was 84.8 per cent for the year ending 2019, compared to a New Zealand average of 5.2 per cent.
Infometrics economist Brad Olsen said while the district is thriving, there are upcoming challenges to be faced.

“In order to maintain the current workforce, we’ll need to find at least 1,000 jobs every year and with an unclear net migration rate, the pool of talent may not be there.”
“Waipā is not only growing, but it’s actually growing faster than elsewhere. A lot of places are following the national decline. Waipā is not in that group, It’s one of the select group that is going up and up.”

Overall, Waipā district’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate was 5.1 per cent over the year to December 2019, the third highest in New Zealand.

While going from strength to strength, the labour market remains tight, with Waipā recording the tenth lowest unemployment rate in New Zealand of 2.5 per cent. This unemployment rate, coupled with continued growth, is likely to push wages higher in line with national expectations.

Council’s economic development manager, Steve Tritt, said the results were a reflection of the investment coming into the district in the commercial and industry sectors.
“Consumer spending is up 6 per cent with $622 million spent, we bucked the downward car registration trend with our positive growth of 0.7%. This is a reflection of the confidence our community has in our local business community.”

Confidence in the local economy continues to support household spending and business investment, as does strength in the primary and tourism sectors.
Te Waka’s six monthly report was also presented at the committee meeting. The regional economic agency distributed research and development grants totalling $870,000 to Waipā businesses, echoing the positive trend.

Te Waka chief executive, Michael Bassett-Foss, said the economic trend for the whole region is looking up.

“Waipā is a shining star in the Waikato region. A number of districts, but especially Waipā have a lot of interest from large businesses wanting to set up, talent wanting to reside and the general sentiment is buoyant.

“We need to focus on core infrastructure to keep up with growth opportunities.”

Council continues to invest in the district with a major infrastructure programme highlighted in the 2018-2028 10-Year Plan. Growth cells in the district are also expecting to come on line earlier than anticipated to keep up with demand.

But it’s not all good news. With international tourists making up 19 per cent of tourism spend in Waipā, the recent travel restrictions due to Coronavirus - COVID-19 are expected to have a short-term impact. Restrictions on exports are also likely to hit the dairy sector by $11 million in the 19-20 season.

“We’ve already seen a decrease in national tourism numbers in the last four weeks which is not surprising, and that will of course have an impact on this year’s numbers.

“Tourism in Waikato, and in particular Waipā, is predominantly domestic however, so that impact is unlikely to be as widely felt here as in other areas,” Tritt said.

Council recently launched Te Ara Wai Journeys, a self-drive tourism product that takes people across six significant sites in the Waipā. Visitors can head to www.tearawai.nz to learn more about the district’s unique, and largely untold history.