Carmen is a social issues and rural reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Western Bay confidence at new high

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Economic growth in the Western Bay of Plenty is nearly double the national average while self-employment rates jumped 29.7 per cent last year compared to 2014, a new report shows.

Confidence has also reached new levels as the kiwifruit industry booms and the district becomes a magnet for exporting companies, business leaders say - but, they agree wages need to lift.

The survey, commissioned by Priority One and compiled by Infometrics, revealed economic growth soared 6.2 per cent in 2015 compared to the national average that was 3.6 per cent. There were 20,129 jobs in the Western Bay last year, up six per cent compared to the New Zealand national average which climbed 2.4 per cent over the same timeframes.

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However, the standard of living was lower, and according to Infometrics latest statistics meant annual earnings in 2014 were only $41,560 compared to the New Zealand average of $54,230.

That news reflected the same trends experienced by Tauranga that were reported in the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend when the city outstripped the national average on almost every indicator except wages and Tauranga Chamber of Commerce Stan Gregec said "our low-wage reputation is not really something we should be proud of."

Priority One Projects manager Annie Hill said the Western Bay had a positive future and was boosted by the strong growth of the kiwifruit industry and the number of innovative, high value companies that were working in the district, particularly at Katikati and Te Puna.

"This strong growth is set to continue for the foreseeable future and we have seen packhouses in the Western Bay spend millions of dollars expanding their infrastructure over the last few years to cope with this projected growth in the kiwifruit industry."

In addition, there was a concentration of innovative, high-value exporting companies working in the Western Bay of Plenty district, she said.

"Newnham Park at Te Puna has been set up as an innovation centre and houses a high performing cluster of companies, many of whom work in the horticultural sector. Katikati has also been recognised as a hotspot of business innovation, with an extraordinary number of successful exporting companies located there given its size."

She acknowledged the Western Bay of Plenty district's economy was skewed to the lower end of the salary range by the significant number of lower level seasonal workers but it was hopeful that trend would change as higher value companies based themselves in the region.

Western Bay of Plenty District mayor Ross Paterson said the council was focussed on future growth and had strategies in place to accommodate people migrating.

Housing Minister Nick Smith would be in town next week to discuss progress on the 350-section affordable housing project under the housing accord in Omokoroa and it was also working with the New Zealand Transport Authority on better access from the suburb into the city.

"We have done a considerable amount of work in water and waste water ... it actually builds our economic advantage to have those infrastructures and developments in place."

The horticulture sector was driving the Western Bay while basic industries, including forestry and link businesses had added growth, he said.

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Mr Paterson said as higher value jobs and skilled people moved into the area wages would get closer to the national average.

Te Puke Economic Development Group managing director Mark Boyle said the rise in self-employment was a byproduct of economic growth and development.

"Our view on all of this we are seeing strong economic indicators we are seeing amazing growth in kiwifruit industry and service industry with different sectors feeling more confident."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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