Northland business confidence has been improving for a while but now the figures are there to back up the optimism, with the region seeing its best economic performance in nine years.

The ANZ Bank Regional Business Trends report released yesterday shows the strength of the latest six-month lift in economic activity in Northland, as well as the region recording five consecutive quarters of growth, has not been matched since 2004.

The figures have been greeted with glee by Northland's business community, with commercial building consents up 302 per cent in the past year; new car sales up 47 per cent and rural real estate sales up 29.3 per cent in the same period.

ANZ Economist Steve Edwards said Northland and the West Coast shared the honour of the highest quarterly increase in economic activity in the December quarter, increasing 2.4 per cent.


Northland Chamber of Commerce boss Tony Collins said business confidence had been increasing for a year or so but that optimism wasn't alway backed up with facts. The chamber's quarterly survey on business confidence was to be released shortly and that would show even more optimism.

"It's confidence increasing and people feeling better about their business and that confidence is expected to make a difference to the bottom line," Mr Collins said. "This (report) goes along with what we have been seeing and now the confidence is being backed up with the facts and figures."

He said more confidence led to more spending, with many business owners looking to increase staff in the next six to eight months. But he said business owners may face a challenge to keep good staff as unemployment dropped.

Trevor Griffiths, from Whangarei firm Griffiths & Associates, which does project management mainly for commercial construction and property development, said the report did not surprise him as his company had just had its busiest January in its 10-year history and was on track for its busiest February.

"It's great. Building is sexy again," Mr Griffiths said.

He had taken on one new staffer this year to bring its Whangarei branch to nine - the company also had two staff in its Auckland office, and one each in Wellington and Christchurch - and expected to take on another before the end of march to meet increased demand.

"When we started out 10 years ago we did $6 million (of commercial building work), it's now $60 million," he said.

"What we are now starting to see is a queue. Last year you could ring up a builder or a contractor of engineer and they would be round that afternoon. Now if you ring a builder he can't start tomorrow, you'll have to wait six to eight weeks.

"We've now got a queue of about two weeks - it's great and long may it continue. If the forecasts are right, this could be the start of a boom."