Waitaki district does well despite recession

Waitaki district is prospering despite the world-wide economic recession, doing better than the New Zealand average in economic growth and with a static population.

The Waitaki Development Board had just received the latest Business and Economic Research Ltd (Berl) report for 2009, and board chairman Peter Robinson said it showed the district had not only survived the recession, but had prospered.

Key indicators in five areas show Waitaki had done better in 2009 than the national average, the largest being a 5.3% growth in employment compared with 2008. New Zealand as a whole had 0.7% growth.

The district also had a 4.4% rise in business size. The national average was 0.3%.

GDP growth per capita in 2009 was 2.7%; the national average -2.2%.

Areas where the district did not perform so well were a nil population growth and a drop in labour productivity.

In its report, Berl said the Waitaki district had performed well during 2009, despite its population inhibiting growth.

It enjoyed a strong growth in employment, even as the national and Otago economies slowed.

Employment grew from 8442 (full-time equivalents) in 2008 to 8886 last year. The manufacturing sector was the largest employer, with primary production next, followed closely by retail and distribution.

Manufacturing had now passed the primary sector as the leading employer in the district.

Strong growth in the retail and distribution sector indicated it may do the same in the next couple of years.

Manufacturing now accounted for 23% of employment in the district, retail-distribution and primary each accounting for 22%

"The average size of businesses grew, as did the number of businesses overall. What made this 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," Berl said.

Business services, recreation services and social services all showed strong rises in employment.

In the primary sector, the report highlighted and contrasted recent changes within the sheep and dairy farming industries.

The district continued to outperform national growth in dairying, with increases in herds, cows, hectares under production and productivity all above national averages since 2003.

"As dairy production rises, sheep farming has contracted substantially," the report said.

In Waitaki, sheep numbers fell 24% in the past year alone, and by 31% since 2003.

In 1999, about 72% of employment in the primary sector was in sheep farming. Since then, total employment in the sheep-dairy industries had grown by about 200, but all the gains were in dairying.

"Dairy farming now accounts for 60% of employment in the two sectors," Berl said.

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz


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