MORE people are employed in Whanganui and Manawatu than at any time since December 2011 - and a local business leader is delighted with prospects for the region.

Statistics New Zealand figures show there were 8400 more people working in the region compared with two years ago, taking the total to 114,100.

Whanganui Chamber of Commerce chief executive Raewyn Overton-Stuart said she expected employment figures to be strong.

"The market is quite buoyant at the moment. The business owners I'm talking to are talking about growth and the positive things that are happening in our region."

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She said she knew that a few businesses had had to cut back. "But I think there are enough positive things happening in business offsetting that."

Despite high employment numbers, the jobless rate also increased to 7.7 per cent in the March 2016 quarter - the highest figure since December 2014 - due to an increase in the number of people looking for work. About 9600 people were out of work in the region.

Ms Overton-Stuart said families and businesses moving to the region positively impacted the local economy.

"We've had a positive increase in population for the first time in years.

"I think we're getting a number of people moving into Whanganui who are discovering they can do business just as easily from Whanganui as they can from other areas.

"We've got new families coming in, which are bringing new skills, new contacts and spreading those networks."

Nationally, the unemployment rate increased from 5.4 per cent to 5.7 per cent in the first quarter of the year as the number of people working or seeking work grew by 38,000.

There were an extra 47,000 people working in New Zealand compared with the March 2015 quarter, and 1000 fewer people unemployed.

The number of people not in the labour force - defined as people who were not working and were not looking for a job - grew by 43,000 in the past year.