| 3 REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT Palmerston North Vibrant city thriving on diversity T T Richard Loader Massey University is New Zealand’s largest university and is home to many top research institutes. Turning 150 youthful years of age last year, Palmerston North City’s vibrancy and success in times of challenge owes much to the spring in the step of its inhabitants and the diversity of its commercial enterprises. Manawatu’s economy continues to recover and build from the effects of Covid-19, better than the New Zealand average across almost every economic indicator. With $8bn of infrastructure and construction projects planned or underway in the region over the decade, the region’s economic strength continues at pace. The projects are vast, and range from the new Mercury Energy Turitea Windfarm, redevelopment of Central Energy Trust Arena stadium, expansion to the Palmerston North Hospital, Massey University capital works plan, to the Palmerston North City Council Wastewater Project. Other key projects underway include the Ōtaki to North of Levin Expressway, which is the northernmost section of the Wellington Northern Roading Project and will improve the safety and resilience of the transport network to the Capital. Te Ahu a Turanga-Manawatū Tararua Highway is due for completion by the end of 2024 and will re- establish an efficient and resilient eastern freight corridor between the Hawke’s Bay, wider East Coast, and the Manawatū. Palmerston North has also been confirmed as a key site for the Hiringa Hydrogen development, with design works and consents currently underway. Construction for the Central New Zealand Distribution Hub is currently underway. With an investment of over $1bn, the hub encompasses the planned KiwiRail Regional Freight Hub, commercial development at Palmerston North Airport including their Ruapehu Aero-Business Park and, connecting them all, the Regional Freight Ring Road. The new regional freight ring road is in the final planning phase for Palmerston North city which will connect all modes including air, rail and road, enabling more efficient links to national and international markets. Backing the economy is a significant number of Government and quasi-Government regional offices and employees, accounting for 29% of the city’s wage bill and providing a welcome safety net during challenging times. Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith says not having all eggs in one basket has underpinned the region’s resilience. “The growth of food production and manufacturing has continued to be strong, and we have thousands of essential workers here, much more than other regional cities. NZ Defence Force personnel from Palmerston North and wider region also man the nations MIQ facilities.” Healthcare, including Aged Care, continues to be the region’s biggest sector and as well as being a sought after teaching hospital, Palmerston North hospital provides specialist services to Whanganui, Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki regions. Education and training play a significant role in the Manawatu. Massey University is New Zealand’s largest university with research institutes such as AgResearch, Riddet Institute, Hopkirk Research Institute, Food Pilot Plant, NZ Food Safety Centre and Plant & Food Research, while Fonterra has its global research & development centre there. The university along with several Crown Research Institutes is part of the FoodHQ network, where 3900 scientists and researchers offer food companies and innovators access to one of the world’s leading clusters of food science expertise and facilities. Seven thousand service personnel, civilians and their families are either employed or connected to the New Zealand Defence Force in the region which is home to the nation’s two largest NZDF operational bases — Linton Military Camp and RNZAF Base Ohakea. “We also have the logistics and distribution sector here. We look after the lower North Island and some of the top of the South Island with our distribution centres like Foodstuffs, Countdown and Turners & Growers. Countdown has built a new distribution centre in the Central NZ Distribution Hub, near the airport. Australian Defence Apparel has established an international distribution centre at the distribution hub as well, supplying the New Zealand and Australian defence forces uniforms from Palmerston North.” Like much of New Zealand, the region is also going through a building boom with the construction sector growing accordingly, bringing with it a number of challenges. “There are two critical issues for us. The first is supply chain and having to wait for materials. The other is the labour/talent shortage. There has been quite a bit of work going on with vocational training at our Polytechnic UCOL especially in the trades and the construction sector.” There has also been a resurgence in the manufacturing sector with niche manufacturers like Steelfort Engineering and their lawnmowing, outdoor equipment and fabrication work; ETech making high value componentry for companies like Gallaghers; Frogparking, which is part of a growing digital tech sector; and Greentech which makes robotic weeders for the horticultural sector. Mayor Smith says Palmerston North City and the wider Manawatu region offers a multitude of investment opportunities for businesses looking to establish themselves in the area. “There’s quite a bit happening in the city centre, while the Central NZ Distribution Hub near the airport has really taken on a new life with some major businesses moving in. “Longburn just outside of Palmerston North is zoned for dairy and wet industries. “Goodman Fielder is located there, along with Fonterra. And we’re encouraging the agribusiness sector to Feilding’s Kawakawa Road precinct.” First elected as Mayor in 2015, Grant says the young people bring diversity as do the 130 ethnic communities in the city. “We’re diverse, youthful and there is real humility. We know what we’re good at and we are pretty grounded people.” The region which is home to the nation’s two largest NZDF operational bases — Linton Military Camp and RNZAF Base Ohakea.