Nelson economy on the up

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A strong regional economy and growing business confidence are creating jobs throughout Nelson-Taman resulting in one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
Statistics New Zealand’s Household Labour Force survey for the September quarter showed that the unemployment rate for the region was just 3.9 per cent, well below the national average of 6.2 per cent. That’s down from 4.2 per cent in June this year and the 4.5 per cent recorded for the same quarter last year.

Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency chief executive Bill Findlater says we traditionally have had the lowest unemployment but the economy is picking up and businesses are becoming more confident and that’s also having an impact on the figures.
“It’s been a better year for us,” Bill says. “I’m struggling to find any doom and gloom at the moment.”

Bill says the region’s primary industries are driving the economic recovery with horticulture “having a better year” and the forestry industry benefitting from high log prices.
“When the primary sector has a good year it spreads through the whole region,” Bill says.
Port Nelson’s business development manager Rob Hawkes says their log exports are booming on the back of high log prices with exports through Port Nelson and Picton reaching record levels.

“We are seeing log prices higher than in 2011 which was the acknowledged industry high,” Rob says. “The Chinese economy is booming and that’s driving log prices up.
“We are averaging 35,000 to 50,000 tonnes of log exports a month in Nelson which is up 10 to 15 per cent on last year.”
Rob says the high volumes of log exports are expected to continue through until the second or third quarter of next year.

Bill says a building boom and opening of a number of big retail stores is also creating jobs. Construction is picking up while employment in the retail sector was given a boost with the opening of the new Kmart store which has created 90 new jobs.
A further 60 jobs will be created when The Warehouse opens its new store in Richmond next July.

But while Coman Construction had projects in Richmond, Stoke and near the airport, contracts manager Ben Coman didn’t believe there was a building boom at the moment. He says the current climate was showing signs of improvement, but that was in contrast to the slow period the industry had recently experienced.
“I’d say by no means are we in a building boom yet. Certainly there are signs of improvement with the amount of building activity about but we’re not in the middle of a building boom.”

The fishing and fish processing industry is also creating jobs with Talley’s personnel manager Greg Cox saying they are presently seeking staff for their mussel processing plant. Talley’s employs 140 staff for the mussel processing season and is having trouble finding enough workers from the Nelson-Tasman region to fill their vacancies
“It’s been very consistent for the last couple of years although the season seems to be getting longer. It starts in October runs through to June so it certainly draws down on the unemployment for six or seven months.”

Greg says Talley’s employs around 400 staff at its plant in Motueka.
Nelson Pine Industries managing director Murray Sturgeon says staffing levels at their Lower Queen St plant, which processes wood products including medium density fibreboard, has been steady at 215.
However, Murray says that number represents a gradual increase from the 200 staff it employed after shedding 50 staff as a result of the global economic recession in 2009.

“We have employed a couple of new guys for our programming work but otherwise workforce is very stable,” Murray says.
Murray says the outlook remains positive with the MDF plant that “just keeps running at full capacity” and its laminated veneer lumber plant’s products sold out to February of March next year.
Bill says the only real concern for the Nelson-Tasman economy was the high exchange rate. “If the exchange rate came down we’d really be taking off,” he says.