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Waitaki's economy grew by 9.5% in the year to March 2022 — the fifth-highest territorial growth rate in the country and well ahead of the national rate of 5.2%, according to data released by Infometrics.
Waitaki District Council business attraction and recovery manager Melanie Jones presented the latest Infometrics data to the council’s executive committee at a brief meeting on Tuesday morning.
In her report, Mrs Jones told councillors the strong GDP growth rate was due to a weak year to March 2021, but there had also been "strong underlying growth" driven by the primary sector and the flow-on effect to manufacturing, engineering and other supporting services.
"The dairy sector continues to be robust, with high global dairy prices boosting the dairy payout to an estimated $9.30/kgMS," she wrote in her report to councillors.
"Waitaki dairy farmer revenues are expected to increase by $64 million for the 2021-22 season to $401 million."
However, this increase would be offset by rising input costs — particularly feed, fuel and fertiliser, she said.
Like the rest of the country, skills shortages were a "huge problem" in Waitaki, she said.
With borders opening, migrant workers would be able to help fill gaps — but younger New Zealanders were also likely to seek overseas experiences and lower living costs.
Employment of Waitaki residents was up 2% over the year to March 2022, led by the construction, manufacturing and health sectors.
The district’s average unemployment rate was 2.8%, and the number of jobseeker recipients had decreased by 5.6%, with an average of 646 people receiving the support benefit in the year to March.
House sale volumes had fallen "sharply" by -14.8% over the year, compared with -9.3% nationally, while residential building consents in the district were up by 51.9%.
Consumer spending in the Waitaki district grew by 7.8% over the year, slightly ahead of inflation at 6.9%.
Tourism expenditure increased more dramatically, up 17% to $103 million for the year, Mrs Jones said.
In the March 2022 quarter, tourist spend in Waitaki increased by 8%, compared with a 6% decline nationally in the same period.
Mrs Jones said Waitaki had benefitted from "significant investment" by Tourism New Zealand, with the Clay Cliffs and Omarama Hot Tubs featured in the "Do Something Autumn" television campaign, and a social media campaign run in conjunction with Neat Places.
Anecdotal feedback from business owners suggested there had been an increase in the number of people from neighbouring districts visiting for shopping trips and "girls’ weekends", and recent retail refurbishments and location shifts — such as Design Federation, Inc Design and Hyde Boutique — were supporting renewed vibrancy in Oamaru’s central business district, Mrs Jones said.
Mrs Jones also updated councillors on the economic development review.
Good progress had been made over the past five months and the draft economic development strategy was ready to be presented to councillors for adoption on June 7, she said.