It's a phrase more commonly associated with Australia but an upbeat Mayor Grant Smith referred to Palmerston North as the lucky city several times during his state of the city address.
In a case of third time lucky, Smith delivered his annual overview of the city to more than 100 people at a joint Rotary Club of Palmerston North and Manawatū Chamber of Commerce event last week.
"We're very much the lucky city in many ways … not only with our economy but in general city and regional settings."
Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the city had handled things relatively positively. "We are recovering amazing well, much better than anybody could have predicted and ... we are well placed for the future."
The city's diverse economy was probably stronger than it was pre-Covid.
In June 2020, Palmerston North had an estimated population of 90,400 but it supported 52,200 jobs as of February 2020.
"We do have jobs and there's been a lot of online and social media inquiries too, about new residents, asking around what is here in the city, what are the city's amenities alongside questions around commercial services and accessing general city services as well."
The new-resident trend was reflected in the employment stats from the September quarter 2020, which show signs of continued employment momentum. The number of jobs in the city was 3 per cent up on the September 2019 quarter (the New Zealand increase was 0.2 per cent).
Earnings from salaries and wages in the city were up 6.1 per cent (nationally 5.6 per cent). Palmy's average salary is $79,000. Tauranga's $75,000, Dunedin is $78,000 and the national average is $53,000.
"I think that tells a really good story around Palmerston North. There's good jobs there, there's plenty of jobs and actually you get relatively well paid."
While some jobs were lost last year, unemployment is still low in the city at 4.4 per cent.
Smith said there were plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about Palmy and why he calls it the lucky city.
"It is around our resilient people and our down-to-earth sort of attitude of just getting on with things. But it's also through our diverse and multi-stranded economy."
The city had the most class-II soils around it of anywhere in New Zealand. It had a productive and flourishing primary sector as well as a growing agri-tech and food science sector. (Class II is very good land with slight limitations to arable use.)
Palmerston North is also New Zealand's defence capital and centre of tertiary education and research excellence, plus the city is a national logistics and transport hub.
Referring to the city's vision of small-city benefits, big-city ambition, Smith said he wanted to emphasise the small city to ensure it wasn't lost. He had seen what Tauranga and Hamilton had gone through. "We want to get bigger, of course, but it's got to be with sustainable growth."
He said in many ways this year was going to be a catalyst year as the council checked itself three years into its 10-year plan against a delivery timeline and measurable goals set in 2018. The council started preparation for the new plan last October and in April it will be released for public consultation.
"I do encourage everybody to participate in that. Sometimes we don't get a lot of submissions. We get a lot of moans and groans about things but often there is not a lot of submissions and it's the usual suspects that are pushing their favourite projects."
He referred to one of the council's goals - to be a connected and safe community. "To me, that's the social glue, that makes sure that we don't leave anybody behind. And I think this city does that incredibly well, better than some of our larger cities."
Smith said there was growing financial pressure on local government. Eight-two per cent of New Zealand's rate and tax take goes to central government, which leaves "poor old" local government 12 per cent.
"You can see the inequalities there but we actually have to provide more than 50 per cent of the services."
Councils were saying to central government there needed to be more funding in the pipeline.
Smith said there was a city-wide shortage of housing at all ends of the spectrum. The council was trying to get smaller dwellings and apartments built and residents would see a lot more of that happening around the CBD.
In the next decade alone it's estimated Palmerston North will need to provide 5000-6000 new houses; that means the city needs to be building 500-plus dwellings a year, with all the roading and infrastructure that goes with that.
"So far we seem to be achieving that target but it must be continued."
The housing market was under extreme pressure and the council needed to make sure more land was rezoned for subdivision. It was planning for more than half of these homes to be greenfields on the outskirts of the urban network and about 40 per cent being infill development.
The council hoped to achieve this by subdividing existing residential sections either for new medium-density houses, or by allowing for some smaller dwellings such as student or grandparent flats.
"It's got to be more than houses being built, it's got to be communities as well, functioning neighbourhoods."
Smith said the year-long sesquicentennial celebrations continued with the opening of the redeveloped Central Energy Trust Arena on April 10. Other events to come include the
National Indian Conference, New Zealand AgriFood Week, New Zealand Food Awards and the National Rose Show. At Labour weekend, 3000 Filipinos from around New Zealand will come to the city for the New Zealand Filipino Festival.
"There're plenty of candles to blow out on that 150th cake."