Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Auckland the growth giant

Council chief economist says 'economic powerhouse' will face infrastructure problems.

Creating an accessible and high amenity city centre in Auckland will be critical. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Creating an accessible and high amenity city centre in Auckland will be critical. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Three to four people will arrive in Auckland every hour, based on the next 30 years' population projections.

Auckland Council chief economist Geoff Cooper says the city's growth is far outstripping the rest of New Zealand.

"Auckland will add a person to its population every 19 minutes. This compares to one person every two hours for Christchurch and one person every 2.5 hours for Wellington," he says.

With that rate of growth will come big challenges, especially on infrastructure, particularly tunnels, tarmac and bridges.

As the only chief economist employed by a territorial authority in New Zealand, Cooper says he is in a unique position, able to provide a level of data beyond many other councils' resources.

Auckland is a powerhouse for the national economy, Cooper says, and average labour productivity for firms in the CBD is 139 per cent higher than outside the Auckland region, according to a Motu study.

"This shows just how important the central city is, not just for Auckland, but for New Zealand as a whole.

"Auckland firms are prepared to pay a high rental premium because of these returns. Creating an accessible and high-amenity city centre will be critical in allowing more firms to take advantage of these returns and generate a high performing business district," he says.

In October, he began producing the new four-page Auckland Economic Quarterly, giving a comprehensive update of the city's economy, an economic scorecard including job growth, migration, retail and housing sales and other vital statistics.

That inaugural issue carried a guest editorial by NZIER principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub on the effects of the Christchurch earthquakes on the city's economy, which examined migration, skills injection and construction sector changes.

Eaqub found a mixed bag of forces, saying the net impact of changes was still unclear.

The second quarterly overview will be published this month.

Cooper trumpeted the strength of cities generally in his first issue.

"As Harvard professor and urban economist Edward Glaeser notes, 'despite the technological breakthroughs that have caused the death of distance, it turns out the world isn't flat, it's paved. The city has triumphed'," Cooper wrote.

The Auckland economy grew by 2.1 per cent in the past 12 months.

"While this is not particularly glamorous in its own right - Auckland's 10-year average is 2.5 per cent - against the backdrop of a European sovereign debt crisis, a double-dip recession for Britain, stuttering growth for Germany and a reduced growth outlook for China, it looks rather more attractive," Cooper said.

Outside work, Cooper is involved in a philanthropic economic exercise. In 2007, he co-founded the Aotearoa Development Corporation, a bank providing capital to businesses in Burma. The loans are relatively small by New Zealand standards, at around $150 a business, but that makes a huge difference to many people's lives there.

A tea shop, bicycle taxi service, a weaver, clothing stall and fried food stall all got funding, which Cooper said amounts to about $100,000 a year.

The money is raised in New Zealand and taken over by Cooper and others to kick-start new businesses and enable businesses to expand.

Geoff Cooper

Position: Auckland Council chief economist
Age: 29
Appointed: November, 2010
Graduate: Auckland University masters of economics
New publication: Auckland Economic Quarterly.

- NZ Herald

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