Outlook believed bright for Waitaki

The Waitaki District has several major projects with consent approvals, which if started, could lift the district's economic growth well above previous periods.

District council chief executive and member of the Waitaki Development Board, Michael Ross, told the Otago Daily Times a decision on building the Holcim plant, in Weston, was due in August or September and some progress could be made before Christmas.

If the Holcim factory went ahead, it would have a spin-off on to residential subdivisions and a wide range of service industries.

Once milk prices were back to a certain level, another 10,000 ha of the North Otago irrigation scheme would be brought into production.

Some of that was dependent on finance becoming available, but Mr Ross was confident the extra land would be brought into production.

A $24 million development project where dry-land farms were being converted to three major dairy units was already under way.

That involved about 800ha of dairy conversion and was a large investment, including up to five houses.

The appointment of a commissioner to take over the role of Environment Canterbury was also another positive step in the future of the district, he said.

The Berl report, prepared for Otago Forward, said that despite a falling population inhibiting growth, the Waitaki District performed well in 2009, achieving better-than-average labour productivity and GDP per capital growth.

Manufacturing (primary processing) had passed the primary sector as the largest sector in the district.

The primary processing and creating sectors both had stronger-than-national gains in employment and GDP, boosted by excellent labour productivity rises.

"Waitaki plays a major role in the Otago region's primary and manufacturing - mostly food processing - sectors, while the district's largely rural nature meant it had a smaller share of employment in business services and recreation services than the size of its workforce would suggest," the report said.

Mr Ross said Waitaki came through the recession much better than expected, thanks to recent economic activity being underpinned by a rise in dairying.

While the returns from a dry-land farm were about $400 a ha, returns from irrigated land were up to $1400 a ha.

However, a dairy farm returned up to $10,000 a ha.

"Dairy farms keep going and the inputs from that industry are sustained, keeping the whole operation rolling.

It is not dependent on the weather so we have come out of the recession well, despite being in an extremely dry situation."

Some of the district's largest employers were taking on staff again and Oamaru was starting to feel more vibrant, he said.

While acknowledging some parts of the economy would not be doing as well as others, there were incremental improvements in industries such as tourism.

Building supply firms were hurting but they had recently benefited from record years.

Although they were back a bit on turnover, things were still looking positive in the building industry, Mr Ross said.

The Berl report said the district enjoyed strong growth in employment and GDP in 2009, even as the national and regional economies slowed.

Labour productivity fell sharply even as employment rose, a pattern often seen around the country.

The average size of businesses grew, as did the number of businesses overall.

"What makes these results even more remarkable was that they were achieved with a flat population growth rate.  Population growth would no doubt have raised these figures even more."


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