Jeremy Tauri: Jobs also needed in wee towns

By Jeremy Tauri

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Is ripping young people out of small towns to work in the bigger cities really the solution? Photo / APN
Is ripping young people out of small towns to work in the bigger cities really the solution? Photo / APN

We're hearing a lot about the strength of the New Zealand economy and the boom that economists assure us lies ahead.

But how evenly will these economic good times be felt countrywide? Is the gap between rich and poor just going to widen?

I come from Kaikohe, a small town in the Far North. In Kaikohe, there's no concern about rising house prices. You can pick up a family home on a section that might hold three houses in Auckland and have change from $200,000.

So why don't the Aucklanders complaining about soaring house prices look to smaller towns? They could be freehold using just the deposit they've saved to buy a city home. The answer's simple: what would they do there?

Unemployment and under-employment is a big problem in my hometown, and others like it. The median income is just $18,200 for Maori in Kaikohe and $23,300 for Paheka. Businesses struggle. Unemployment is almost 10 per cent, compared to about 6 per cent in the rest of the country.

It's hard not to see New Zealand as a dual economy - big cities powering away and small towns struggling to survive.

How could property values be distributed evenly over our country? How could we encourage development and growth in other parts of the country? How do we reduce the dependence of the local and national economy to one industry, so that when it's taken away, it is less crippling?

Someone on the radio this week suggested the answer to the country's lack of builders was to pull unemployed kids out of places like Flaxmere and Kaikohe and force them to work on the Christchurch rebuild, or in Auckland, building homes.

Is ripping the young people out of these areas really the solution? It's important that this growth is evenly balanced across the country and its industries. It's also important that local authorities are involved to achieve a national plan.

Britain's Enterprise zones have attracted GDP 1.2 billion in private investment.

It takes a lot of time, effort and, yes, money, to create jobs. Businesses need support and incentives to open in far-from-affluent areas.

But the costs of ignoring the problem are a lot higher, and span generations.

Thinking about what the future holds for kids in my hometown, and others like it, is important if the whole country is to prosper.

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