The future of Otago compared with other regions looks
most promising, with good planning and perseverance, writes
Jolyon Manning, of Alexandra.
Queenstown airport, pictured above last July, is
Australasia's fastest growing. Photo by Queenstown Airport.
Later this year, there will be a steady stream of figures
published from the forthcoming census, delayed two years by
the Christchurch earthquakes. There may be a few surprises
but key elements of the present momentum for growth and
sustainability are already widely understood.
Otago has often been characterised as a ''land of contrast''.
In the past decade or so, there have been distinctive
differences in the residential population growth and economic
expansion between inland Central Otago-Queenstown Lakes
districts and the coastal districts embracing North Otago,
Dunedin and South Otago.
Two annually produced reports have already highlighted the
scale of these differences. For the past 25 years, a
comprehensive Statistics New Zealand business pattern
nationwide annual survey of employment has been conducted in
mid-February. This is not the same as the much vaunted
nationwide ''household'' employment survey, which is based on
limited but disciplined sampling extrapolated into figures
often seized upon by politicians and others. The second
annual resume of economic growth at the territorial local
authority level is published by Berl. These studies augment
the evidence disclosed by the above quoted business pattern
survey and examine the highlights of various sectors such as
manufacturing, building and construction, education and
health, and tourism - itself always a good talking point.
Over the years it has been more challenging for Statistics
New Zealand to get an accurate picture of employment in
pastoral farming and horticulture, since these firms are
often employing small numbers yet in some districts, such as
Central Otago and Clutha, their contribution is a relatively
important indicator of economic expansion.
The overall coherence between the Otago (and Southland)
coastal districts, with their respective big city
administrative centres of Dunedin and Invercargill, and the
traditional farming hinterland, has changed markedly in the
past few decades. There are major ''regional development''
issues that embrace the whole of the provinces but especially
in the case of Otago, there has developed a distinctive more
self-sustaining and independent vocation now seen in the
Central Otago Lakes districts and especially Queenstown. It
now supports the most rapidly growing airport in Australasia.
A few figures to ponder. The annual business pattern survey
indicates that since the last census (2006) full-time
equivalent jobs have increased by 10% in the inland Otago
districts but have decreased in the coastal Otago districts
by 3%, with a loss of 2500 jobs in places such as Fisher and
Paykel and Hillside workshops. And while Otago as a whole
suffered a 1% loss of jobs in the six to seven years
Southland gained 4%, dominated by dairying expansion.
Over the same period, the difference is more pronounced.
Residential population increased an estimated 3% in the
coastal group (including Dunedin City) and 16% inland - the
largest ratio increase recorded in New Zealand.
Furthermore, I would not be surprised if the more recent
estimates of the Dunedin residential population prove to have
been a little optimistic. It is recorded as having increased
from 122,300 to 126,900 between census years 2006 and 2012.
In the memory of many readers of this newspaper were the days
when key rural servicing functions played a much more
prominent part in city affairs - pastoral stock and station
agencies, grand ''winter'' and ''summer'' shows, wool sale
events, departmental store and motor trade features that
sought to capture the periodic invasion of wealthy country
patronage spending. This has changed and today mail order and
internet purchasing has divorced much of that earlier
And again, in the special case of Dunedin, many of us still
recall the line-up of nationwide commercial firm ''head
office'' administration and the various benefits that flowed
from that, including in social and cultural leadership and
community sponsorship. Today, there is a prominent presence
in the Queenstown Lakes districts of semi-retired business
and professional people who, having spent most of their days
in Dunedin, now providing an important base for philanthropy
in the inland districts while still having a soft spot for
While the recent slow-down in the economy nationwide has
quite spectacularly clipped the wings of the earlier rapid
expansion in the Queenstown Lakes district there are now
signs of a resumption of spectacular growth. In part, this is
a natural outcome of the current spurt being felt in the
Auckland ''super city'' and Queenstown's closer linkages with
that centre. In addition, it should be remembered in today's
world, Christchurch is more readily accessible from
Queenstown than Dunedin.
I believe there is likely to be a reversal of transtasman
migration within the next decade or so. We might see New
Zealand families, who have scored a useful bundle of working
life savings, come back to our shores and be especially keen
to take up residence once again in our fine lightly peopled
rural landscapes of distinction and comfortable climate.
The future of Otago needs regular attention with the changing
emphases in manufacturing employment, tertiary education
investment, a steadily ageing population base, and looser
linkages with the rural hinterland. A bright spot for Dunedin
is the presence of growing strengths in postgraduate
university research and applied skills, such as are provided
by the Otago Polytechnic. Dunedin once again must take a
renewed leadership role as a balance against the steadily
growing dominance of Auckland and Christchurch. Queenstown
and Wanaka have now established a significant and
commercially sustainable string to the provincial bow. The
future, as compared with other regions, still looks most
promising with good planning and perseverance.
• Jolyon Manning was a chief executive of the former
Otago Council Inc and secretary of the Otago Regional