After several months of hard slog and uncertainty, this has been a heartening week so far for Northland.
The easing of Covid-19 level 3 restrictions across the Auckland SuperCity has made regional travel possible again, effectively reopening Tai Tokerau to the rest of New Zealand.
In addition, it was deeply encouraging to read the words of Brad Olsen – an Infometrics senior economist from Whangārei – who said in this newspaper the other day that, despite taking a heavy knock from the pandemic, Northland had weathered the economic storm better than the national average.
Although Infometrics estimates that Northland's economic activity fell 10.8 per cent per annum in the June 2020 quarter, it was a smaller hit than the 12.6 per cent decline in economic activity nationally.
Encouragingly, spending activity had bounced back significantly within the region since the nationwide lockdown, and figures showed that card spending was up nearly 12 per cent over the July month as "Northlanders got moving again and the Northland economy started to regain momentum".
Olsen added, though, that Northland's labour market remained in a decidedly tough position – more than 10 per cent of the working-age population in Northland are on a Jobseeker Support benefit at the end of June now the highest in New Zealand.
However, there was hope that these figures could be turned around.
"With additional support announced from Government to help support the local construction sector, and local business leaders moving swiftly to support the economy, the Northland economy is showing resilience in the face of a severe economic shock," Olsen said.
Naturally, I work closely with our team of growth advisors at Northland Inc and the feedback we are receiving from businesses right now is amazingly positive – innovation is a high priority and we are seeing creative solutions for businesses to improve economic resilience in our region.
We are really pulling together, and our small-to-medium-sized businesses are incredibly grateful for the support we are showing each other.
Many of those businesses are more confident and informed than they were before, and with more resources at their disposal too. Through the funding supplied by the Regional Business Partner Network (RBP), our highly motivated growth advisers continue to support them, connecting them to expert advice and service providers at every opportunity.
We have already supported more than 900 Tai Tokerau businesses via the RBP this year alone in fact, and we will continue to be unwavering in our determination to ensure that there are no barriers to recovery.
Tourism also received a fantastic confidence-boost recently with the Government's decision to support the recovery of the industry by investing $700,000 in Northland Inc.
The much-needed $20.2 million was made available to Regional Tourism Organisations through the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme announced as part of the Tourism Recovery Fund in this year's Budget.
The cash injection will bolster Northland Inc's work in the three essential areas of destination management, industry capability and product development, and domestic marketing, while providing another wonderful opportunity to work with our partners to promote Tai Tokerau.
I am particularly grateful to Tania Burt, our general manager destination, and her team for their work in securing this funding and, of course, to the Government in recognising the importance of the industry by making this investment.
There are some more exciting announcements to come from Northland Inc's tourism team, too, and we will make these known in the coming weeks.
Obviously, we are not out of the woods yet as the Government's decision to return the country to alert level 2 amply demonstrated.
We know that the gains have been hard-won and the sacrifices enormous; to go backwards now would be catastrophic, and that is why we must all continue to be team players, doing everything we can to protect, preserve and promote Tai Tokerau and to remain disciplined at all times.
We have only to look at what this year has brought us already – from the worst drought in years, to flooding and other extreme weather events, not to mention the ongoing spectre of Covid-19 – to learn that we can take nothing for granted.
However, armed with our trademark Northland resilience, unity, and adaptability, I am proud to say that we are more than holding our own.
• Murray Reade is CEO at Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency.