Strong economy, major challenges
Te Tairawhiti has shrugged off many of the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, with surging activity in some sectors post-lockdown seeing us lead the country as the only region to record growth in the year to September, of 2 percent, according to economic consultants Infometrics.
Commercial construction is the major contributor, with a doubling in the number of non-residential consents issued over the 12 months — thanks to Provincial Growth Fund investments, a number of private commercial builds such as at the new, fast-developing Aerodrome Business Park, and major capital projects under way for the council.
Consents for new houses over the 12 months were a low 86, although that will surely be stimulated by strong demand for housing and median prices up an astonishing 45.8 percent to $560,000 in September, from a year ago.
Our horticulture sector hardly skipped a beat over lockdown and is seeing continued growth, particularly in gold kiwifruit and apples.
Tourism is also remarkably strong, with visitor spend in September up 20 percent on the same month last year. Combine this with an economic rebound and a housing crisis that has seen motel space allotted to emergency housing, and Gisborne city has seen at least 10 nights over the past two months where visitor accommodation was at full capacity.
All this activity, alongside homeowners with added confidence to loosen their wallets, is reflected in consumer spending in the retail sector being up 4.3 percent, compared to -2.7 percent nationally.
Strains in our “extremely busy” construction and trades sector were highlighted in a recent Chamber of Commerce survey. Asked “what is the top thing holding your company back?”, 76 percent of the 63 businesses taking part listed a lack of suitable or qualified staff.
Meeting this demand is critical for a housing crisis that requires a surge in building, and with a good pipeline of commercial construction projects ahead.
■ We also reported this week that our region is worst in New Zealand for the number of teenagers leaving school with no qualifications — at 19 percent, compared to the national average of 12 percent.
While a strong jobs market is thought to be contributing (although Covid impacts have also seen a 19.2 percent increase in people on the Job Seeker benefit), sadly the future career prospects for this large number of our young adults are dimmed considerably by not having NCEA Level 1 to their names.