In 2016 extensive research was undertaken by CEDA to take an in-depth look into Palmerston North and Manawatū’s competitive advantages and opportunities for economic growth, and identify our barriers and ways to overcome them.  This research was one of CEDA’s first foundational pieces of work, and helped inform the direction of CEDA’s strategic work for increasing economic growth in Manawatū and informed our bold and ambitious vision for the region – to become the most progressive region in New Zealand by 2025. 

Three years on, in late 2019, additional research was commissioned by CEDA to measure where Manawatū is tracking, what’s improved, changed or worsened, and what can be built upon. Made even more pressing by the challenging events of the last 6 months, the latest research provides a pulse of the local economy pre-COVID-19, providing a useful baseline for us to work from as we move through the recovery process. 

For freight, road and rail connectivity are the most important

When it comes to improving the transportation of freight in and out of the Manawatū, road solutions were backed by 62% of respondents (up a significant 13% on 2016) while rail remained unchanged on 46%This reinforces the importance of the central government investment into the intermodal KiwiRail Regional Freight Hubannounced in July 2020.  The perceived need for improving air freight was much lower than in 2016, falling from 41% to 33% in 2019 which indicates that our connectivity has vastly improved.  

Additionally, logistics and transport was reaffirmed as aimportant growth sector for our region, at 71% (up 5%), reflecting the planned KiwiRail Regional Freight Hub, Te Ahu a TurangaManawatū Tararua Highway, and the Regional Ring Road, all at the epicentre of multimodal freight movements between the North and South Islands, and providing a critical hub between Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington. With the significant $3.5 billion infrastructure pipeline underway and planned in the city and region, it’s clear that as a region we’re collectively leveraging our strengths as a significant distribution and logistics hub for New Zealand. 

A lack of talent remains the biggest barrier to doing business in Manawatū

As in 2016, finding skilled and specialist staff remains the biggest barrier to doing business.  In 2019, 57% of businesses reported this to be a barrier (up 8% on 2016).  This reinforces CEDA’s work and strategic focus on the talent ecosystem, through the development of a Manawatū Talent Attraction and Retention Strategy, our focus on International Education and student retention, and the appointment of Sara Towers to the Talent and Skills Manager role in March 2020. Additionally, CEDA launched NXT Step Manawatū in 2019 in the first regional partnership with the leading graduate and career platform connector platform for New Zealand 

Our work with key partners including Talent Central and the National Driver Training Centre continues to be a priority, and the development of a Primary Sector Skills action plan, Regenerating International Education and a Making Employment and Experience Matter plans for Manawatū are underway as of July 2020. Another project that will get underway in 2020 is the focus on developing employment pathways to address the on-going skills shortages of some of the regions priority sectors. comprehensive toolkit has been developed for our regional employers and recruitment agencies, to showcases the variety of lifestyle options on offer here through profiling residents who have chosen to make Palmerston North and Manawatū home.   

Significantly, recruitment issues for unskilled or semi-skilled staff deteriorated further in 2019, with 32% reporting this as a business barrier which is up 6% on 2016. A targeted focus, both nationally and regionally, will help to alleviate this in the medium to long term, and the impacts of COVID-19 on our job market may provide a short-term solution that benefits both businesses and those in the job market.

A unified voice for Manawatū

From the research it is clear that having a unified voice driving economic growth needs to remain a priority, while the ‘Lack of a unified growth strategy’ was identified by just 18% of respondents as a barrier to economic growth, down 11% from 2016 is a positive insight. Our ambitious vision for Manawatū to be New Zealand’s most progressive region by 2025 encompasses that of our shareholder councils, and collectively sets Manawatū’s direction to a vibrant and innovative region that will be first choice for talent, business and investment   

For Manawatū to be recognised as New Zealand’s most progressive region by 2025, we believe that the three big goals to achieve this are:  

  • Manawatū is recognised as one of the top three agifood hubs in the world
  • Manawatū is a leading distribution hub and leverages off its role in central New Zealand
  • Manawatū is renowned for its exceptional lifestyle, competitive advantages, and is a magnet for investment, business and talent  

These goals are critical enablers in achieving this vision for Manawatū, and provide tangible focus areas to enhance our reputation, and increase the ability to attract, retain and grow investment, business and talent here in a competitive national and global market.  

Over half of respondents (58% (down 6% from 2016)) agreed that ‘There is no one defining feature of what the Manawatū is known for’. CEDA’s work on implementing the Manawatū Destination Management Plan, and the Te Āpiti Tourism Potential project both seek to address these sentiments, along with the 70% of respondents who feel that ‘We need more interesting activities for people to do in Manawatū’. 

Sectors of strength for Manawatū

The sectors that respondents identified as having the most potential for economic growth include construction, transport and logistics, education and training, scientific research and innovation, and agriculture reaffirms CEDA’s focus areas on our sectors of strength, and the investment opportunities that comes with this. Manawatū’s exceptional location and logistics advantages, combined with a strong agrifood sector and deep innovation network, really set our region apart. 

Local and central government is increasingly less a barrier to business

While a third of respondents reported government, locally and centrally, as a barrier to business there is a positive trend in this over 2016.  In 2019, central government as a perceived barrier to doing business fell 2% to 34%, while local government saw a significant and positive 8% from 41% reporting it as a barrier in 2016, to 33% in 2019.   

View the 2016 Business Research Results Infographic here

Download a copy of the 2016 Research Summary here

View the 2019 Business Research Results Infographic here

Download a copy of the 2019 Research Summary here