West Coast maintains stable employment growth despite economic headwinds

15 May 2023
The West Coast economy grew by $45m during the year to March 2023, according to new provisional data from economic consultancy Infometrics.

However, economic headwinds slowed GDP growth across the region to 1.9%, below the national rate of 2.9%.

Growth was strongest in Westland district, at 2.9% per annum, followed by Grey district, at 2.2%. Buller grew by a modest 0.5%.

Development West Coast chief executive Heath Milne said there has however been an upswing in the past few months due to the resurgence of tourism.

West Coast’s GDP for the March quarter was up 2.9%, compared to the national growth rate of 2.7%.

Tourism expenditure and guest nights rose 38% and 62% respectively per annum over the year to March 2023. Tourism spending across the West Coast reached 95% of pre-pandemic (March 2019 year) levels in the March 2023 year, compared to 87% nationally.

According to data from MarketView, visitor spending on the West Coast in the month of March 2023 exceeded 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.

Milne noted that employment growth has remained steady across the region. "Rehiring within the accommodation and food services sector has been a key factor, coupled with job growth in the mining, health and manufacturing sectors.”

Over the year to March 2023, employment rose by 1.7%, with all districts experiencing growth between 1.5-2.0%. The unemployment rate fell to 3.4%, now in line with the national level.

This positive trend was somewhat offset by declines in the agricultural sector, which continues to face significant pressures, including farm expense inflation running at 15% per annum and the Farmgate milk price downgraded by a dollar per kg of milk solids.

Consumer spending across the West Coast reached a record high of $159m in the March 2023 quarter, up 28% from March 2022. This surge led to an annual consumer spending growth rate of 17%, far outstripping the annual inflation rate of 6.7%.

However, Milne cautioned that, "While the increase in spending is certainly a positive development, we're seeing a decline in spending on big-ticket items as households grapple with high interest rates and persistently high inflation."

House sales fell 8.7%pa from the March 2022 quarter, and car registrations fell 35%pa.

The West Coast has shown remarkable resilience in the housing market. House prices remained relatively flat over the past year, even as the average house value fell by 11% per annum nationally. Milne attributed this resilience to the region's relative affordability, stating, "The West Coast was one of just two regions in the country to sidestep a slump in house values. Our relative affordability has made the Coast an attractive place for home buyers looking to escape escalating city prices."

This momentum is further reflected in the growth of residential consents, which increased by 6.5% per annum in the year leading to March 2023, while the rest of the country saw a decline of 7.9%.

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