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Watch NZH Local Focus: 'People come into our district' - South Waikato Mayor ready for growth

By Hunter Calder

Headlines declaring the regions are 'in decline' are producing fighting talk in South Waikato.

The District's Mayor, Jenny Shattock, says although the district has been hurting for a while with a drift to the main centres and a declining population there has been a 1.3% growth since June 2016.

"All of a sudden we've got this growth and we're capitalising on that."

Mrs Shattock says she's committed to keep the district's small towns growing by working with businesses, communities, education providers and in the social area.

"Council has been very very keen on partnerships with communities we have worked with the local tertiary organisations and we've created a trades training organisation that provides training for school leavers. That will get jobs into our local businesses."

The Council's Community group Manager, Sam Marshall says there has been a lot of business interest in the area and work by community members to clean up the streets and towns to attract economic activity to the regions.

Work has also been done to free up land for subdividing.

But it's not just economic opportunities.

Mr Marshall says plans on how to benefit the community from a social perspective have also been considered.

That's where Pride in Putaruru - a community group passionate about the Putaruru area - comes in.

Member Raewyn Whiteman-Thorne says Putaruru is reinventing itself as an artisan community based on their history of wood, water and the farming community., and by leveraging of the existing boutique cheese factory, Over the Moon.

"All of that stuff that is part of who we are.

"There is an enthusiasm for the area, not just driven by us , but by people coming in and selling their high valued properties in other towns and coming into a place where you can buy a cheaper home, set yourself up with everything you need."

Mrs Shattock agrees and says it's not just the Auckland drift but people from the Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay and even Hamilton "are coming here, freeing up cash, selling up and coming here for a lifestyle and that's working for us".

Ms Whiteman-Thorne maintains that it's all about putting South Waikato on the map and attracting people to move here.

She's already heard of one school recently reporting the arrival of 27 new families into the community over the last year.

Ms Whiteman-Thorne says they're now starting to see competition for commercial and residential property. She says home buyers have to get in quick and an empty shop was "gone within days".

Mrs Shattock says the South Waikato is a resilient community, and says they have hit highs and lows with population decline in the past, and she's a strong contender that growth will happen again.

But she believe working with other councils across the region is the best way to do it to ensure all small towns prosper.

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- NZ Herald

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