StatsNZ data shows the West Coast had an increase of 377 filled jobs over the past year, rising from 14,710 in March 2022 to 15,087 in March 2023. This growth even surpasses pre-pandemic levels, with 277 more jobs than in March 2020.
There has also been a drop in Jobseeker recipients, with 126 less West Coasters receiving Jobseeker benefits over the past year. The Ministry of Social Development reports Jobseeker recipient numbers fell from 1,455 in March 2022 to 1,329 in March 2023.
Heath Milne, Development West Coast's Chief Executive, attributes some of this job growth to the tourism industry rebounding, with operators rehiring staff following the downturn caused by COVID-19.
According to data from MarketView, visitor spending on the West Coast has not only recovered but exceeds pre-pandemic levels. In March 2023, visitor spending reached $22.6m, compared to $11.5m in March 2022 and $20.4m prior to COVID in March 2019.
The region's growth has been across the board, with the construction boom and increased mining activity also creating employment opportunities, Milne said.
In 2022, 268 residential building permits were issued on the West Coast, marking a 22.9% annual increase, compared to the national rate of just 1.1%.
“On top of the demand for residential builds, there are some major projects underway that are not only contributing to the building boom but adding vitality to our towns,” Milne said.
Construction is underway on a $28m visitor centre in Punakaiki and the first of the Pounamu Pathway experience centres in Mawhera Greymouth, a $34.5m project with four hubs planned across the region.
The West Coast has other big developments on the horizon, such as Westland Milk Products' $70m investment in a new lactoferrin plant to be built at their Hokitika facility. This follows a $40m investment to double butter production in Hokitika, which included a contract with US retail giant Walmart.
“There are a lot of great job opportunities across all industries on the West Coast for those looking to skip a few rungs on the career ladder,” Milne said.
Fijian builder Brian Kenny is among the many who have discovered new opportunities on the West Coast. Having moved to Greymouth in February 2022, he is now working towards his building qualifications with Jennian Homes West Coast.
Kenny couldn’t be happier with his move to the Coast. “The people were friendly, and the scenery was good, and they just made you feel at home.”
Housing affordability is another significant draw for the West Coast.
Paul Cook, originally from Manchester, UK, has been living in New Zealand for 19 years with his wife. After spending 17 years on the North Island, mainly in New Plymouth, they decided to move to the West Coast for a more relaxed lifestyle. Cook now works on the ziplines at West Coast Treetop Walkway in Hokitika and couldn't be happier.
"We found utopia," he said. "We sold our house in New Plymouth … and was able to buy a house here and be mortgage free and just live in a beautiful part of the world. That was the best move I’ve ever done. 19 years in New Zealand and this is where we’ll stay now.”