As this decade comes to a close, it feels appropriate to reflect back on the past 10 years and consider what we can learn from the ups and downs of our economy.
I believe that
three important trends emerged this decade, which have laid the foundation for the next 10 years of economic development.
The first is growth. A number of indicators show that while Whanganui had a sluggish start to the decade, the past five years saw an acceleration of economic activity.
From 2014, our population grew by 9.2 per cent to a record high of 47,300. Our GDP grew by 12.6 per cent and annual consumer spending rose by 35.9 per cent. A very exciting story is visitor spend, which went up by 41.6 per cent from 2014.
Whanganui is increasingly a place where people want to live, shop, do business and visit. This momentum bodes well for the continued vibrancy and dynamism of our district.
Accelerated growth alone does not result in a resilient economy however, which leads to the second trend we noticed: the people and businesses that make up our economy are changing to meet the needs of the future.
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Our people are gaining skills and capabilities, making our workforce more prepared and flexible in the face of changing demands. Data from Statistics NZ shows that between 2006 and 2018, the percentage of Whanganui residents with a qualification beyond secondary school increased by 13.2 percentage points.
Earlier this year, the NZ Productivity Commission issued a report about the changing nature of jobs from the 1970s to 2013. They found the number of manufacturing jobs had declined, while information-intensive sectors such as finance and professional and business services were expanding.
Whanganui was named, along with Gisborne and Invercargill, as a centre that struggled to attract the knowledge and service jobs needed for the future economy. This was identified as a significant factor behind the stagnation we saw at the beginning of the decade.
Once again though, the second half of the decade saw a reversal. The number of our knowledge-intensive jobs has grown every year since 2014. Knowledge intensive industries now account for 28.7 per cent of our total fulltime jobs.
The third trend flows on from this point, which is that while we are increasingly in line with national trends, we have maintained important points of difference.
While growing our knowledge intensive industries, we've maintained a comparative advantage in manufacturing, which is the single biggest contributor to our GDP and accounts for 14.4 per cent of our jobs.
The strength and quality of our sector has attracted new business and fostered the expansion of existing ones, with more and more niche and high-value goods made in Whanganui.
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We have also maintained our affordable lifestyle. Despite rising house prices, our homes remain among the lowest priced in the country (right now, our median house price of $320,000 is around half the New Zealand average).
Affordability is about more than house prices though, and I'm happy to see that the latest available data shows that median incomes have risen 20.8 per cent from 2010 to 2018.
The 2010s delivered a growing, vibrant economy, one that is increasingly resilient, and one that protects our points of difference. This is a great foundation for the future, and we can't wait to get to work on further developing our economy for the next 10 years.
Mark Ward is chief executive of economic development agency Whanganui & Partners.