Whanganui has the opportunity to grow its marine manufacturing industry if infrastructure improvements are made at the port.

Work is under way to rebuild number one wharf and Q-West boat builders managing director Myles Fothergill urged the council to continue to work with the industry on improvements.

The marine industry was the biggest non-food manufacturing industry in the country, he said and with Auckland and Tauranga outgrowing themselves there was an opportunity for Whanganui to pick up a lot more work.

Speaking at the Whanganui District Council's annual plan hearings on Wednesday Mr Fothergill said Whanganui's low living costs made for relatively high disposable incomes which along with cheap land meant Whanganui had an opportunity to attract workers and businesses.

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"We know that there are 2000 boats nationwide that we could do refit work on," he said. "We know many of them will bring their boats to Whanganui if we get the opportunity. Q-West has the credibility to get the lion's share of that work."

Q-West has about 60 staff.

"I'm convinced we can double the size of my business by adding refit work to it."

An improved port would have spinoffs for Whanganui including employment growth, increased rates revenue, and a potential for a rail link and partnership with Wellington's CentrePort.

Meanwhile, development of the port area would encourage Q-West to move down there, Mr Fothergill said.

"It's urgent. To put it in perspective, Q-West cannot exist in Whanganui in four to five years. The silting on the slipway is so bad now."

Whanganui Mayor Annette Main said the council was working behind the scenes on developing the port.