Whanganui farm land should be generating more income, Mark Ward has told a full Whanganui District Council meeting.

He heads up Whanganui and Partners, charged with improving the district economy. Trained as a scientist, he likes facts and figures. He's been studying those of his new district, and presented some on March 12.

He said only 3.5 per cent of total district GDP, $54 million, is from agriculture. That's not much considering the size of the district, though he realises a lot of land is very steep.

Yet farmers pay 7 per cent of the funding towards economic development, Whanganui Rural Community Board chairman Tex Matthews said. He asked where they get value.

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Ward acknowledged not enough had been done in the agribusiness sector, and said it was up to him to rectify. His organisation has been looking at options for growing high value crops on the district's best soils.

"More can be done, and more will be done."

Another area that's languishing is tourism. It contributes eight per cent of GDP, but should be up at 12 to 15 per cent, Ward said. The district has the lowest guest nights per capita in New Zealand, despite 110,000 visitors a year, 12,000 a year canoeing the Whanganui River and 26,000 a year using part or all of the Mountains to Sea cycle trail.

To improve earnings from tourism, Whanganui and Partners is focused on Whanganui's image and getting some high value visitor offerings. Whanganui's point of difference has to be its arts, culture, heritage and awa, Ward said.

Manufacturing here is good, and makes up 15 per cent of GDP - unusual for a small centre. And education is doing very well, with 90 per cent of students achieving NCEA Level 2 and 10 per cent of students international.

The number of international students increases 50 per cent each year.

"It's the fastest growing economic segment in Whanganui."

The district's population increased by 700 in the last year, and is growing faster than Palmerston North's. Of those, 200 were international migrants "bringing new skills, thinking and perspectives".

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But our GDP per capita is 65 per cent of the national average, and the lowest in New Zealand. Seven per cent of local people can be categorised as "deprived". However Ward said average household earnings rose 6.7 per cent in the last year.

Unemployment is at 6.2 per cent. That's high, but it dropped 1.2 per cent over the last year. There are 4100 businesses, with 42 new ones starting in the last year.

Altogether, Whanganui and Partners has a focus on $750 million to $850 million in the district's economy. Councillors appreciated Ward's figures, and said they would like to receive them by email.