The Whanganui-Manawatū Region is reaping the "first fruits" of years of economic planning, the new head of Whanganui's economic development agency says.

Mark Ward was inducted into the Whanganui & Partners job on January 7. He's encouraged by what economist Brad Olsen says about the wider region - especially its overall economic growth, retail spending and house prices topping the national average.

He said dedicated business people, with local and central government, have been working on economic strategy for eight years or so. It is now being implemented, and the result has "enormous potential".

The economy should continue buoyant if export prices for agricultural produce stay high.

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But continued prosperity will depend on finding enough skilled people in the export industries - and that is getting increasingly difficult, he said.

"We cannot meet demand either from local and national talent, or from skills immigrating from overseas."

Attracting students into careers in those industries will be a priority, and changes to national immigration policy could also help.

Whanganui's biggest assets are its river, port and airport, which Ward believes are poised for "further enhancement".

More investment is also needed, from the Provincial Growth Fund or other sources.

The region is well positioned to grow steadily if its people continue to work together strategically and proactively, especially with iwi.

"I see an ambitious, competitive and very attractive Whanganui in 2019."