The economy of a region traditionally at the bottom of the deprivation index is outstripping our national one. Lois Williams asks why.
Cashed-up baby-boomers fleeing the big city are behind a surge in house sales on the West Coast.
And they’re injecting new money and energy into its communities, according to a Westport real estate veteran.
Infometric figures out this week show the Coast economy outstripping the national one, with growth of 3.4 percent in the year to September, while the New Zealand average was just 2.6 percent.
In dollar terms, that’s a $78 million increase in GDP for a region that’s traditionally been deepest red on the New Zealand deprivation index – up there with places like Gisborne, and rural Northland.
And it comes despite a fall in tourism spending.
The stats show that guest nights on the Coast are down nearly 9 percent on the previous year: international visitors may be trickling back while New Zealanders, feeling the pinch of inflation, are travelling less.
But the West Coast housing market is bucking the national trend with house prices rising.
The average house value on the West Coast is now a modest $344,253 in comparison with the eye-watering national average of $964,203.
But the Coast figure represents a rise in value of 6.4 percent.
The coast also led the country in growth of residential building consents, with 277 issued for the year – a whopping 42.8 percent increase, compared to 7 percent nationally
Real estate consultant Charlie Elley, who’s lived and worked on the West Coast for four decades, says his company in Westport has sold hundreds of homes to buyers from other regions.
The majority, he says, were baby boomers from as far away as Auckland, looking to bankroll their retirement – early in some cases by selling up in the city and buying on the coast.
“They’re mainly from Canterbury and Nelson but some were from Auckland and the main factor was that capital differential – they can buy a place here and buy a motor home and still have a six-figure bank balance for the first time in their lives.”
The influx has transformed the demographics at local coffee shops, Ellery says.
“Ten years ago you might have seen a few young people and workers … these days the cafes are full of older folk comparing notes on their camper vans or touring bikes – and they’re loving it. “
Development West Coast says other factors are also lending resilience to the economic headwinds battering the country, including gold mining and manufacturing.
Federation Mining spent more than $6 million in the first year of development at its Snowy River site, creating 50 jobs with more to come as the underground operation cranks up.
And small enterprises like the Reefton Distillery, and the West Coast Pie Company have thrived and expanded, finding ready markets for their homegrown products and taking on more staff.
It’s not so much that it’s hard to go wrong with pies and alcohol, but about the perennial demand for quality, according to pie-baker Emily Lucas.
“We started during Covid making 100 pies a week; now we’re up to about 3000, supplying outlets around the country, and it’s because people are looking for good stuff; they’re very conscious of where their money’s going.“
Likewise, the small distillery, already known for its Little Biddy Gin expanded this year into making whisky and vodka, buying a new site on the outskirts of Reefton and importing a distiller from Scotland.
Development West Coast chief Heath Milne says 212 new jobs were filled on the Coast over the year, bringing the West Coast unemployment rate down to 3.6 percent – just above the national figure.
It’s the jobs that remain unfilled that worry him.
The past year has seen job gains across a range of industries, Milne says, but there are currently hundreds of positions sitting vacant, spurring the development agency to launch its recent ‘Cut out for the Coast’ recruitment campaign.
“The Coast is a special place that attracts a special kind of person and we’re on the hunt for a few more of them,” Milne says.
Cut out for the Coast?
It helps if you like the wild, according to GP Calum Stannett.
Originally from Scotland, Stannett made the move to the Coast this year with his young family and is now happy to pose as poster boy for Development West Coast’s recruitment campaign.
His wife Cara is also enthusiastic.
“I’d lived on the West Coast in my early 20s, working as a geologist in the Stockton Coal Mine and fell in love with the place. I always wanted to move back to the West Coast,” she says.
Six months ago, the couple sold their house in Christchurch and moved to Greymouth.
“We decided to make the move over to the Coast mainly because a lot of our interests are here – we really enjoy getting into the outdoors and tramping.
“There are just so many incredible places that are right on your doorstep, and so much to do with kids and the family as well,” Calum said.
“I work at a GP clinic, Coastal Health, which is literally around the corner, just a 90-second walk, so we’ve sold one of our cars.
“There’s not much that we actually use the car for these days, only on weekends when we want to go on a mission somewhere.”
Selling their house in Christchurch, they were able to buy a fully renovated five-bedroom character home, with enough left over to allow Cara to stay at home looking after their two young children.
“Calum has a really good job here, and he can further his career while still allowing us to have an amazing lifestyle that lets us follow our passions in the weekends and after work with our family.”