Business North August 2022

20 | REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT Northland: Whangārei District Council Strong economy driver for growth Karen Phelps Whangarei’s strong economy, natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle is attracting people to the city. Whangārei’s economic metrics show it continues to track above average. GDP for the last quarter reveal hangārei’s growth at 5.4% compared with 5.2% average for New Zealand. According to Whangārei District Council manager of district development Tony Collins a number of factors are at play including the fact that by making it easier for people to do business in the region this has supported growth: “As a council we try to make it as easy as possible for businesses to operate here and to create a platform off which they can succeed. For example, it’s things like providing better information on how to engage with Council, how to navigate through Council’s regulatory framework and participating in procurement opportunities. “All this helps business in their decision-making process. Council’s clarity of vision for the district gives businesses a clear understanding of what Council’s direction is so they know how they fit into the wider piece.” Growth also brings key challenges, particularly around access to labour. “We have a low unemployment rate at the moment, which is good, but also makes it challenging for businesses trying to grow.” In response to the challenge Council is building the capability of local businesses, by providing tools and information, so they are better placed to recruit. For example Council works closely with regional economic development agency Northland Inc and recently ran a seminar with a recruitment consultant to provide local businesses with tips and tools for recruiting staff. He says that tools on Council’s website also help improve capability, particularly when businesses need to engage with Council. Attracting businesses to relocate or start up in Whangārei creates more opportunity. He says Whangārei’s importance is underpinned by the fact it’s a hub for Northland, is the only city north of Auckland, and is home to major retail, employment and service centres. Whangārei also offers key infrastructure such as Northport, Whangārei Airport and Whangārei Hospital. Tony says that these aspects are key drivers for the growth of Whangārei, encouraging inter-regional movement of people and goods. “Whangarei is a great community. As a business it’s easy to form relationships here and get in front of the key decision makers when you need to. For a new business arriving to start up or an existing business looking to grow that provides a level of confidence if they know they can talk to the right people at the right time to make decisions.” Attracting people to come and live in Whangarei is the other part of the equation. Tony says clearly articulating what the district’s proposition is means people have plenty of reason to come and live there. He says that the district has experienced a solid rise in population over the past 10 years increasing by nearly 14,000 people between 2013-2018. “People are being attracted by Whangārei’s strong economy, natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle. We still need more people to come here for work, and the bigger the population the more commercial opportunities exist for our businesses to grow.” Infrastructure that supports ability to work from home has helped. He says Whangārei was one of the first parts of New Zealand to adopt ultra fast broadband with local electricity supplier Northpower subsidiary Northpower Fibre playing a key part in the roll out by innovating to install the network partially over land, rather than underground, which provided a more economic and faster implementation for the district. “We have people who live here and work, even though most of their work might be based outside the district. So they can enjoy the lifestyle Whangārei offers but still work efficiently and have access to a wider national or international market.” This combined with the right infrastructure, lower land prices and operating costs means it’s no surprise that Whangārei is becoming more attractive for businesses. T he presence of larger businesses such as Northpower demonstrates how a local business can grow and access both local and national markets, he says. “These larger businesses and their executive personal adds to the District’s business workforce capability and impacts on shifting the household median income. “This is something we have struggled with in the past in Whangārei by national comparison. “Any way that we can lift this average household income benefits the whole community with a range of flow-on effects.”