Progress made, challenge ahead
Recently I returned home from the USA following an amazing opportunity to attend the American Council of Young Political Leaders exchange in Washington DC and Wyoming.
On the long-haul flight I reflected on how our country and region compares and I believe we’re doing very well.
Since being elected, my focus has been to encourage the creation of more jobs, generate more opportunities and wealth for Southlanders, support innovation and champion Southland’s progression to make it a province of choice. I believe we’re well on our way.
I am proud to call Invercargill, our southern-most city, my home. Our community is a wonderful place to live with its majestic landscapes and attractions such as the vast Oreti Beach right at our backdoor and the fantastic 200-acre Queens Park in the middle of the city. We have a mix of heritage and new development, cultural diversity and an economy with great potential.
I’ve always said Invercargill and wider Southland is a great place to live, work and raise a family and the statistics are certainly backing that.
The latest Census shows more people are living in the city; Southland has the fourth highest median wage and the highest labour force participation rate in the country plus the number of people on benefits is decreasing.
However it must be mentioned there are always challenges to an export-driven economy.
Global factors such as falling dairy prices, uncertainties in Greece and Eurozone, and volatility in China are a factor but that’s why we need to continue to investigate the viability of new opportunities such as responsible mineral exploration, diversification in agriculture, invest in innovation and open up new markets overseas through free trade agreements. While dairy farmers will face some lean months, agriculture continues to be the driving force of our economy here in Southland. Other industries, including high-tech manufacturing and construction, are doing well and lower interest rates will also help businesses and families with debt, and those wanting to invest.
The Southern Institute of Technology is leading the way in attracting international students to our province to learn and thrive and tourism continues to grow with fledgling southern areas gaining momentum.
In other great news for Southland, aluminium production will continue at the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter. Meridian Energy and New Zealand Aluminium Smelters signed a variation to the existing electricity agreement this month. NZAS contributes $525m to the Southland economy and approximately 800 full-time equivalent employees and contractors work at the smelter.
The Government is continuing to support the economy, which is more resilient than it was six or seven years ago, with billions of dollars of infrastructure investment. An example of this is the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative, which is bringing faster, better internet to thousands of people. The next round of funding available for the rural broadband initiative is currently underway and I have supported Southland’s bid so that more isolated areas can be connected. This will encourage business growth across the region.