The biggest growth industry in Northland is the healthcare and social assistance sector, according to one version of gross domestic product (GDP) number-crunching.

Dairy farming made up a big chunk of Northland's bucks in 2015, at 5.3 per cent of GDP, says the Northland Region Economic Profile, but falls well below the amount of money tagged to health and social assistance.

The health and social sector industry was worth 7.3 per cent in Northland last year, and 6.1 per cent nationally.

The sector also had the single biggest workforce increase, adding 1535 employees in the decade since 2005.


Across-the-board increases in the region's workforce was 4310 in that time, and last year there were 65,895 people working, or 2.9 per cent of the national workforce.

Northland's economic growth has sprinted ahead of the national average after 10 years of lagging behind.

According to the regional GDP profile, released a week before this week's similar review by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Northland's GDP grew by 5 per cent overall in 2015, compared with the national rate of 3.6 per cent.

Since 2005, Northland had averaged 1.7 per cent growth when the national rate was 1.9 per cent.

GDP is the total amount of money made, spent or turned over in a country or region, representing the monetary value of all goods and services.

David Wilson, Northland Inc chief executive, said the health figure reflected socio-economic as well as other demographics, such as an ageing population. Rest home care and private healthcare was included in that band, and the picture should not be simplistically seen as government funding on health and social welfare, he said.

Mr Wilson was not surprised by figures that backed up Northland's role as a primary producing region, but he would like to see more impact on GDP from digital technology and other remote-capable industries.

Fairly low down the GDP scale is the lumped-together professional, science and technology sector which includes information and digital technology - identified in several regional economic studies as a potential shining star in job and economic development terms.

But in Northland, that bite of the cherry amounted to only 0.9 per cent of GDP in 2015 (nationally 3.4 per cent).

"That's interesting considering the region's digital connectedness. We have to build on the region's new UFB [ultrafast broadband] capability and take advantage of the proximity to Auckland," Mr Wilson said. "What we're missing here is a strong tertiary sector focused on professional services training. We can have a strong economy not dominated by primary industries."

A healthy impact on the GDP from tourism showed a "macro trend", or the spill from strong tourism growth across New Zealand.

"That said, we've got issues we need to address. We have to focus on decreasing the seasonality curve that sees tourism booming in the summer and dead in the winter, and we have to keep developing infrastructure," Mr Wilson said.

Examples were the Hundertwasser Arts Centre, the Waitangi mountain bike park, the new Waitangi Museum and the renewal of the Twin Coast Highway route, he said.

The GDP figures showed Northland had a high number of self-employer businesses - 21.9 per cent of the work force in 2015, compared with 16.6 per cent nationally.

Crucial to Northland's economy was the oil refinery with petroleum manufacturing being worth 9.5 per cent, whereas nationally the industry hardly created a ripple at 0.5 per cent of GDP. Forestry and logging brought 1.2 per cent to Northland's GDP (nationally 0.7 per cent) and sheep/beef farming 2.7 per cent (nationally 1.3 per cent).

Only four of the nation's 15 regional economies did not grow in the 2015 financial year, reflecting a fall in agricultural activity: Southland, Waikato, Taranaki and the West Coast.