An ageing population is an opportunity if Hawke's Bay can take advantage of its retirees' wealth and skills, a forum on demographic change was told yesterday.

Massey University's New New Zealand forum in Hastings heard from academics and local panellists on their ideas for boosting regional development in the face of forecast changes.

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley said New Zealand faced "huge" demographic changes, including the number of people retiring nationally - set to grow from 40,000 to 70,000 a year over the next two years.

Richard Shaw (left) and Paul Spoonley say the growing number of retirees and young people should be turned to the Bay's advantage
Richard Shaw (left) and Paul Spoonley say the growing number of retirees and young people should be turned to the Bay's advantage

Hawke's Bay was moving into "territory we haven't seen before", with a shift to more people exiting the workforce than entering it.

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The region needed to address that "population stagnation" and one option could be to introduce a regional migration policy to encourage more skilled and wealthy people to the region, he said. "If you're going to do that you're going to need to get employers involved and you're going to have to have welcoming communities that make immigrants feel welcome here."

With the proportion of elderly in the region set to rise from 17 per cent to about a quarter, "why not encourage their investment and the transfer of their knowledge?"

Tukituki National MP Craig Foss agreed, saying having an older population "was not necessarily a bad thing. They're not boy racers, they don't wear patches."

But Napier Labour MP Stuart Nash said he did not "buy the fact that Hawke's Bay needs to be God's waiting room".

The region needed to take advantage of its port, which could charge less than Auckland, and take a plan to central government seeking a growth-focused partnership, he said.

Hasting Mayor Lawrence Yule agreed a partnership between local and central government was required. He said the demographic trends facing the region were "the single biggest issue we can do something about over a long period of time".

Associate professor Richard Shaw said at the other end of the age spectrum, Hawke's Bay also had a disproportionately high number of young people not in work, education or training, but that needed to be turned to the region's advantage.

"Tackling the number of people with low levels of literacy and numeracy will deliver the biggest bang for your buck," he said.

Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour MP Meka Whaitiri said coming Treaty of Waitangi settlements would provide a much-needed economic boost.

Hawke's Bay Today editor Andrew Austin said the region could take advantage of technology to enable Bay workers to study at university level without having to leave their jobs.

The youngest panelist, Havelock North High School leader Max Cooper, said he expected to leave Hawke's Bay for a working career in Auckland or Wellington and the region needed more high-salary jobs to attract people back.