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Otago's economy something to be proud of

Sunday 21 August 2005

Otago's economy and lifestyle something to be proud of:

BUT CAREFUL MANAGEMENT REQUIRED FOR INCREASED GROWTH

LOW UNEMPLOYMENT . STRONG HOUSING MARKET . HIGH CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

Otago is fast becoming one of the most sought-after places in the country to be, with a strong and buoyant economy, Otago MP David Parker said today.

Mr Parker warned that increased population growth and investment in new industries must be carefully and sensibly managed in the coming years to limit the impact on our greatest assets - the largely pure and unspoiled environment, welcoming, down-to-earth small rural communities and our special climate.

The Otago Electorate is now one of the biggest in the country with around 47,000 eligible voters.

"Our region is seen as an area of growth and innovation with a wonderful lifestyle to match," said Mr Parker. "People are moving to Otago from all over New Zealand. Our population is growing.

The number of people receiving unemployment benefit in Otago has plunged by nearly 75% in the past 5 years reflecting the strong growth in the Otago economy.

North Otago poised to be the next centre of major growth

"Take Oamaru for instance. Six years ago the town had empty shops up and down the main street. You'd be hard pressed to find an empty shop now. Six years ago bored unemployed young people trawled the streets looking for anything to do, now they nearly all have jobs.

"Oamaru remains a comparatively small quiet town but today it is enjoying a renaissance. People who have lived here all their lives say that the town is as busy and vibrant as it was in the 1960s when it was fired along by a booming rural economy," said Mr Parker.

"As a region, North Otago is on the brink of major expansion. Consumer trust owned electricity lines company Network Waitkai recently forecast 30% growth in its business over the next 10 years. The growth is predicted as a mix of irrigation in the rural area and business development in Oamaru. They are committed to investment in the North Otago region.

"The possibility of world heritage status for the Victorian precinct in Oamaru's historic district and ongoing promotion and development of tourism potential will draw more and more visitors to Oamaru, "rather than just passing through".

"And moves to make Oamaru the organic primary production and processing centre of the world are looking more and more promising with a multi-million dollar investment by Nikken Foods. The Japanese company believes Oamaru and North Otago have what it takes to become a learning and production centre of excellence in organic food, fibre and primary produce.

Growth the reality for much of Central Otago

"In places like Queenstown, Cromwell, Wanaka and Hawea, growth is an accepted reality", said Mr Parker. "Instead of worrying about how to fill empty shops and to stem the tide of people leaving the district, these centres are worrying about how to get new schools and health services fast tracked to meet their growing demand.

"I am aware of the issues that face the mainly small businesses in the electorate. But order books are generally full and skilled staff are in short supply because we have the lowest unemployment in 20 years.

"The building industry is booming in Central Otago. Our housing market continues to boom, as does most of our farming sector. Volunteerism and community spirit is alive and well.

In the recently published National Bank regional trends for August, Otago posted a 5.1 percent rise in house sales, in contrast to a 3.1 percent decline nationwide.

"Why is this happening? New Zealand's growth rate in recent years has been amongst the highest in the OECD group of wealthy countries - higher even than Australia's.

"Otago has been one of the best kept secrets in New Zealand for a long time. Now that secret is getting out and we will see continued growth and increasing population.

"This must be carefully managed."

A report earlier this year predicted Queenstown's population would increase from 27,000 to 100,000 within 15 years. Planning for such huge growth is critical," he said.

ENDS

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