Whanganui has a great opportunity to play a leading role in the rebirth of this country's manufacturing sector, says a leading economist.
Cameron Bagrie, owner of Bagrie Economics and former ANZ chief economist was in Whanganui on Tuesday, exploring the region, as well as joining in a public forum with economic development agency Whanganui and Partners.
Bagrie said the Whanganui economy was in a strong position to weather the challenges of the coming months, with the reopening of the country's economy to the world on the horizon.
"With each passing day, people are recognising that we can't continue as we are," Bagrie said, referring to the government's Covid-19 strategy.
Bagrie said elimination cannot continue, and the government will quickly have to pivot to a new strategy that doesn't require lockdowns.
The clearest opportunity for Whanganui was around the rebirth of New Zealand's manufacturing sector, which had a strong foothold in the surrounding area.
"In a world where supply chains are being disrupted, where some people are starting to question globalisation, we start to think about buying and thinking local. How far does that go?"
Part of that growth could involve attracting businesses outside of the region to Whanganui through a variety of already existing factors, such as a lower cost of living and more accessible housing.
"Within this region, you have a huge strategic advantage that your housing is still relatively cheap compared to what's going on around New Zealand, and housing is the top-rated concern for the majority of New Zealanders.
"The provision of cheap, affordable housing is not just a necessity, I think it's going to be essential in attracting a workforce. Workers are going to pull up sticks in the likes of Auckland and move to other parts of New Zealand, where they simply can get ahead."
Boutique tourism was also a suggestion put forward to grow the economy, with Bagrie pointing to Whanganui's significant tourism growth within the domestic market while borders have been closed.
'Whanganui's story needs to be told'
"One of the things I see across New Zealand at the moment is that regions are pretty good at telling their story in their region but pretty poor at telling it outside the region," Bagrie explained.
Regions like Whanganui had to convince business it had good wages, leasing and housing costs, skill sets and educational levels.
The best way to share this information, Bagrie said, was through a central group with the sole purpose of telling those stories.
"It's about having that centralised place that people have that bit of basic information to get, and if they need more, then that's when you get Whanganui and Partners to go in donkey deep with what they can provide."
Bagrie said it was also important for the region's business sector to sell Whanganui to other contacts they met around the country.
"They're the big proponents and indirect tellers of your story."
Whanganui and Partners acting chief executive Jonathan Sykes said the group was delighted to host Bagrie in the city.
"National and global economies find themselves at an important juncture and so we need expert, independent voices like that of Cameron, to help give us perspective around our economic prospects."
Sykes said the ideas put forward by Bagrie were food for thought for the organisation - particularly the discussion around attracting outsiders into the region.