The region’s economy is traditionally lower on the deprivation index than our country’s. Lois Williams asks why.
Baby boomers fleeing the big city are behind the boom in real estate on the West Coast.
And they’re putting new money and energy into their properties, according to a Westport real estate veteran.
Infometric figures this week show that the Coast economy outpaced nationally, with growth of 3.4 per cent in the year to September, while the New Zealand average was only 2.6 per cent.
In dollar terms, that’s an increase in GDP of 78 million in a region that has traditionally been the reddest in New Zealand’s deprivation index – up there with places like Gisborne, and rural Northland.
And it comes despite falling tourism spending.
Figures show overnight visitors to the Coast fell by almost 9 per cent last year: international tourists are likely to stay back while New Zealanders, feeling deflationary, travel less.
But the West Coast housing market is bucking the national trend of rising housing prices.
The median home price on the West Coast is currently a modest $344,253 compared to the national average of $964,203.
But the number on the Coast shows a price increase of 6.4 percent.
The coast led the country in the growth of residential construction permits, with 277 issued annually – an increase of 42.8 percent, compared to 7 percent nationally.
Real estate consultant Charlie Elley, who has lived and worked on the West Coast for four decades, says his company in Westport has sold hundreds of homes to buyers from other areas.
Many, he says, were young children from as far away as Auckland, looking to pay off their pensions – early in some cases by selling in the city and buying on the beach.
“They were mostly from Canterbury and Nelson but some were from Auckland and the main thing was the difference in capital – they could buy a property here and buy a car and still have a six-figure bank balance for the first time in their lives. .”
The influx has changed the demographics of local coffee shops, Ellery said.
“Ten years ago you might have seen young people and fewer workers … these days the restaurants are full of old people comparing scores on their camper vans or touring bikes – and they love it. ”
West Coast development says other factors are also lending strength to the country’s struggling economy, including gold mining and manufacturing.
Federation Mining has spent more than $6 million in the first year of development at its Snowy River site, creating 50 jobs and more to come as underground activity expands.
And small businesses like the Reefton Distillery, and the West Coast Pie Company thrived and expanded, finding ready markets for their local products and employing more workers.
It’s not so much that it’s hard to go wrong with pies and alcohol, but about the constant need for quality, according to pie-baker Emily Lucas.
“We started during Covid to make 100 pies a week; now we reach about 3000, we supply stores all over the country, and it’s because people want good things; they know exactly where their money is going.”
Likewise, the small distillery, now known as Little Biddy Gin, expanded this year to make whiskey and vodka, buying new premises outside Reefton and importing a distiller from Scotland.
West Coast development chief Heath Milne says 212 new jobs were created on the Coast in the year, bringing the West Coast unemployment rate down to 3.6 per cent – just above the national rate.
It’s the unfilled jobs that bother him.
The past year has seen job gains across a range of industries, Milne says, but now there are hundreds of vacant positions, prompting the development agency to launch its latest ‘Cut out for the Coast’ campaign.
“The Coast is a special place that attracts special people and we’re hunting for a few more,” Milne said.
Cut to the Coast?
It helps if you like poop, according to Dr. Calum Stannett.
Originally from Scotland, Stannett moved to the Coast this year with his young family and is now happy to establish himself as the poster boy for the West Coast recruitment drive.
His wife Cara is also interested.
“I lived on the West Coast in my early 20s, working as a geologist at the Stockton Coal Mine and fell in love with the place. “I’ve always wanted to go back to the West Coast,” he said.
Six months ago, the couple sold their house in Christchurch and moved to Greymouth.
“We decided to go to the Coast mainly because most of our interests are here – we enjoy getting out and about.
“There are just so many amazing places right on your doorstep, and so much to do for kids and families,” says Calum.
“I work at a Doctor’s clinic, Coastal Health, which is around the corner, just 90 seconds away, and we sold one of our cars.
“We don’t use the car much 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 home, with enough surplus to allow Cara to stay at home looking after their two young children.
“Calum has a great job here, and he can continue his work while allowing us to live a wonderful life that allows us to pursue our passions on the weekends and after work with our family.”