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Manawatū’s recovery plan from COVID-19

There is little doubt that COVID-19 remains a huge health and economic challenge and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Here at the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA), we’ve developed a regional economic plan to ensure that as a region, we can “Respond, Recover, and ultimately, Grow.”

We want Manawatū to emerge from COVID-19 as New Zealand’s most progressive region. Palmerston North currently has the lowest unemployment of any metropolitan city, while the wider Manawatū-Whanganui region was ranked by ASB Bank, ahead of Auckland in its March regional economic scoreboard.

The “Respond” part of CEDA’s plan is to support businesses with tools, training, and webinars, and as NZTE’s regional business partner for Manawatū-Whanganui, we have supported more than 400 COVID-19 impacted businesses with resources and funding on key areas including HR, business continuity, cashflow and financial management, strategy, marketing and digital capability. Our Navigating COVID-19 Business Webinar series, launched in early April, attracted more than 750 attendees, with an additional 650 watching the recordings, providing targeted support and advice on key areas including staff wellbeing, financial management, employment law, resilient leadership and supply chain risk management.

CEDA is working with our partners and stakeholders to actively drive Manawatū consumers to shop, spend and support local through targeted initiatives including Choose Manawatū, and have been focused on reinforcing a sense of pride in our region with social media led campaigns and content, #ThisIsManawatu and #LoveManawatu. We’ve been relentlessly targeting our two-hour drive market via digital channels to reignite our visitor sector, drive our ‘visiting friends and family’ market and get our hospitality and retail sector buzzing again. This is combined with our targeted communications campaign to spread the story of Manawatū’s strengths and resilience, showcasing our diverse economy and the significant growth trajectory we are on.

In some respects, the response is blending with what we term the “Recover” phase.

The first six months of 2020 saw a record $600 million worth of resource consents lodged with Palmerston North City Council alone. This is not only twice its previous record year but has come through in half the time. Since the lockdown ended, retail spending has been well up on the same point in 2019 and TradeMe job listings for Manawatū and Palmerston North started to grow under Alert Level 3 when compared to February 2020 and surpassed it under both Level 2 and Level 1. In addition, housing demand continues to outstrip supply, pointing to a genuine resilience in our regional economy.

A growing challenge for the recovery phase, is attracting the right mix of skills and people to sustain the growth that we are seeing, a challenge faced by our region, and much of regional New Zealand, pre COVID-19. Another challenge relates to the recovery of our industries most impacted by COVID-19, tourism, the conference and events sector, and international education.

In early July, CEDA applied for a share of the $20.2 million that was been made available to Regional Tourism Organisations under the Government’s Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme (STAPP). $700,000 was allocated to the region, which will put wind beneath our Destination Management Plan that remains focused on what is now, a fiercely competitive domestic tourism market and will provide critical upskilling and development opportunities for the sector overall. This investment will also ensure we can fast track product development and investment plans including Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge, which represents the region’s strong opportunity to create tourism activities centred on what CEDA has validated as a future North Island visitor icon.

To regain and grow our significant conference and business sector events market, a three-year strategy and road map has been developed to ensure we can collectively leverage our locational and value for money advantages with our stakeholders and partners. Palmerston North and Manawatū possess key conference infrastructure and world-class speaker expertise from research facilities and of course, through our CRI’s and Massey University, providing significant strength as we look to regrow this economic contributor for Manawatū.

International education remains a sector where recovery hinges on the borders reopening. To help international students who remain in New Zealand, the Government has provided hardship funding and visa extensions. CEDA has successfully secured funding from Education NZ to deliver a programme that is aimed at retaining international students in the region and to build the experience they have of it. This includes tours for secondary school international students to connect them with the three main tertiary providers, showcasing the campuses, learning pathways and the academic, pastoral and social support available. We’ll also be focused on exposing tertiary to some of the career pathways available in the regions priority sectors, developing connections to the regions cultural and social fabric and ultimately retaining them in our future talent pool.

The final part of CEDA’s plan is to “Grow” the Manawatū economy.

We know that Palmerston North and Manawatū are strong in terms of agricultural research and education. Translating this into new businesses is where the business accelerator Sprout comes in. It is unique as one of only four Callaghan technology incubators in New Zealand and the only one focussed on agritech and agrifood. Palmerston North is also New Zealand’s second home of government, providing a major growth opportunity and resilience for the region post- COVID-19.

Growing the Manawatū economy will also come from our infrastructure pipeline of more than $3.5 billion, which includes Mercury Energy’s $450 million Turitea windfarm. The huge blades currently resting along Rangitikei Street in Palmerston North illustrate how advanced the $256 million first stage is, with Mercury confirming the second stage will proceed.

In May, a $206 million upgrade to RNZAF Ohakea was confirmed by the Government and at the beginning of July, KiwiRail announced a location between Palmerston North Airport and Bunnythorpe as its inter-modal freight hub. Physical works for this hub may be some time away as it now enters the consenting phase but that is not the case with Te Ahu a Turanga; the new Manawatū Tararua Highway. Earthworks for this $620 million route are set to start in the early summer of 2021. The ten-year plans to 2028 for both Palmerston North City Council and Manawatū District Council point towards new capital projects and renewals valued at $877 million.

It is not just the public sector. In June, work started to build Countdown’s new regional distribution centre near the airport. Countdown joins Foodstuffs, DKSH New Zealand and Ezibuy as Palmerston North grows its capability as a national centre for freight and logistics. These works underpin not just existing businesses but create opportunities in concert with improved road and rail connectivity.

To build the required capacity and capability of our workforce aligned to the region’s top priority sectors, CEDA are launching a Manawatū Talent and Skills Attraction and Retention Strategy. The competition for talent into our region will be more critical than ever as we compete domestically to build the capacity and capability of our workforce aligned to the regions priority sectors. The Strategy will focus not only on the attraction and retention of people, but also on creating a brand reputation, talent development and discerning as a region, how we connect and integrate new people to the region.

The strong economic diversity of our region from farms to the lecture hall, from offices to freight, and from labs to factories, provides us with distinct competitive advantages as we respond, recover, and grow out of COVID-19.

View the Respond, Recover, Grow plan, here.

CEDA’s team are here to support you and help answer any questions you may have.

We recognise that the level of information is significant, and rapidly changing each day. Get in touch so we can help guide you through the different supports available to you and connect you with the resources you need. 

Our dedicated team of Business Growth Advisors can connect you to the right information and resources to assist you in navigating this unprecedented time for your business. Ways we can help include:   

  • Connecting you to professional service providers to assist you with the issues that you are facing e.g. cash flow management, business continuity management, 
  • Provide you with relevant and up to date information on how and where to access Government support including navigating the Wage Subsidy Scheme, and the recently announced Business Finance Guarantee Scheme. 
  • Assist Maori businesses on Government support available.  
  • Provide you with an experienced Business Mentor to provide additional guidance over the next 12 months. Business Mentors come with specific skills and are matched depending on your needs.  
  • Facilitate funding for Research and Development including project grants.   
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