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Confidence In Business Strong In The Wild West

While the rest of New Zealand is going into a tail-spin over the latest gloomy National Bank business confidence survey, the West Coast has quietly established a cargo shipping link to Australia out of the Port of Greymouth which is likely to attract business to the Coast because of cheaper operating and transport costs. John Howard reports.

The latest National Bank survey of business confidence shows the biggest fall in 12 years and, the survey says, it may get worse.

Uncle Tom Cobbeley-and-all are now jumping on the band-wagon with prophecies of gloom and doom against the Government, citing re-nationalisation of ACC, the Employment Realtions Bill, a freeze on tariff reductions and higher taxes, as possible causes.

But more than 2 years ago, even before the Government announced it was to stop native timber harvest and pay out $120 million, Coasters were quietly working away at a plan for their future.

They had a big idea. They reasoned that earlier this century dozens of cargo ships plied the more direct route across the Tasman between Greymouth, Hokitika and ports in Australia with all manner of goods - so why not now?

Coasters have complained for years that most of their products are exported off the Coast to other New Zealand ports who gain the benefits. Those high transport costs are preventing development they said so the only way to fix that is to develop the fishing port in Greymouth.

And that's exactly what they've done. The Port of Greymouth has been upgraded, the channels and bar across the entrance of the Grey River have been checked and the navigation lights are in place.

The Port office has recently opened for business with first one, and now two, general cargo vessels sailing.

The MV Maasmond is sailing between Greymouth and Brisbane while the MV Fetu Tokelua is providing a larger general cargo service between Greymouth, Auckland and Port Kembla just outside of Sydney.

The Fetu Tokelau also sails between Auckland and the Cook Islands.

The Maasmond is operated by the N.I.E.S. Line while the Fetu Tokelau is operated by Nautilus Shipping and Trading.

The new service means the cost of transport from the Coast along with lower regional and local business operating costs will now be very competitive particulalrly for anybody who wants to manufacture products for export to Australia.

Along with a plentiful labour supply, and the cheaper costs of land and council rates, the Coast has become an attractive proposition for investment or perhaps to now relocate a business operation.

Understandably, this big idea has spurred interest Coast and nationwide, with business inquiries starting to arrive from throughout New Zealand.

To supplement the port idea, Greymouth, along with Westland and Buller, established economic development organisations dedicated to growing their districts and to attract business investment - it's early days, but ideas are flowing thick and fast. Perhaps it's their mostly Irish background and heritage with that do or die spirit.

But then along came the Government stopping the harvest of indigenous timber.

That caused a huge adverse reaction against the Government because one of the potential uses for the new port and shipping services to Australia, could have been to carry high quality, high-value furniture and other wood products which is much sought-after and attracts premium prices both in New Zealand and overseas.

Government's pre-election decision to now end the sustainable harvest of indigenous rimu timber in 2002, six years earlier than promised, came like a bolt out of the blue.

But that hasn't stopped Coaster's and the $120 million in lieu of indigenous timber harvesting will sure help progress - albeit in a different way.

For example, if there is one thing that the West Coast has as a natural competitive advantage over other regions, it is pure, high quality rain water - 3 metres of the stuff falls annually and people from the hot and arid Middle East delight in standing under waterfalls having their picture taken.

If it can be trapped before it runs over the ground the rain water is said to be one of the highest quality waters in the world.

Since recent figures show that global sales of bottled water now exceeds sales of Coca-Cola, coupled with the new cargo shipping service, Coast water, along with other products which will ultimately be developed, looks likely to be an export winner.

There is a saying on the Coast; "The best angle from which to solve a problem is the try-angle."

And that, afterall, is the real Coast angle which many politicians so often miss.

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