“The blossoms are blooming, the sun is shining and our community is so grateful to be back in Alert Level 1. Now we are here, it is our support for our local businesses that is our number one priority — for they employ our people and through their efforts our local economy prospers.
The Ministry of Social Development’s employment data shows us that since Alert Level 4 lockdown, Hawke’s Bay has 4,000 people on the Job Seeker Benefit — 2,000 more than this time last year. Hastings has seen a 31% increase in Job Seeker beneficiaries with almost 4,500 children living in benefit-dependent households.
Despite these statistics, many sectors across our economy are coping well with Covid and the challenges it has thrown at us. Our latest retail spending figures for Hastings are tracking $2 million higher than this time last year. Our community is clearly getting behind our ‘Buy Local Campaign’.
Over the past six months Hawke’s Bay businesses have received $300 million in wage subsidies. With wage subsidies now finished, our aim now is make sure employers know how to access support in the future. There are opportunities to redeploy affected workers into a number of growth and new industries such as the new pet food factory, the meat industry processing commencing in October, as well as targeted growth in the health sector and sustained growth in the construction and civil infrastructure sectors. This is reflected in residential consents which are up 44% across the region compared with NZ at 8% and non-residential consents which are up 60% compared with the rest of NZ at -8%.
HB Tourism’s ‘Hawke’s Baycation’ campaign has attracted many visitors to our region, boosting the hospitality and accommodation sectors, as well as our wineries and retail stores. Returning to Alert Level 1 has helped our cafe and restaurant people and will allow events and concerts to reignite our entertainment sector, which brings significant numbers of tourists to our region.
The Government’s Covid-19 stimulation package has injected $120 million into Hawke’s Bay, with Hastings receiving a large portion of that funding – nearly $40 million for the regional Mitre 10 Park’s Aquatic Centre and hostel, $9 million for State Highway 51 improvements (150 people will be trained on the job and will have an opportunity to gain a civil infrastructure trade qualification), $12 million for Foodeast (formerly the Food Innovation Hub), $2 million to help connect youth to employment opportunities, and funding support to renovate seven of our rural halls.
The Government is also investing $16 million in infrastructure to develop new housing in Hastings. This funding is in addition to $12 million our council is investing in housing infrastructure to build much needed homes for our people, stimulate the economy and create jobs.
The private sector is investing more than $130 million in Hastings, including Westside Healthcare, the new Quest Hotel, Royston Hospital expansion, and Apollo Foods and Hawk Packaging’s expansions.
One of our biggest challenges this summer is having enough workers to thin, harvest and pack our crops. The horticulture and viticulture sectors contribute over $1 billion to our region’s economy. We are doing everything we can to address this urgent situation, such as enticing school leavers and tertiary students and redeploying people from the Job Seekers Benefit. With the industry we will be talking with Government to consider managed isolation accommodation for our RSE workers as happened through Alert Level 4 lockdown. Apples and pears alone are worth $700 million to our local economy and employ more than 8,000 permanent positions in our community, so this sector is a major focus for our efforts.
To support our nearly 10,000 small businesses in Hastings our council is piloting a new Hastings Business Hub. A shop front where our business community can receive advice and learn about government funding. It will be a fantastic facility to assist new businesses to develop and existing businesses to grow. We must find ways to support our business community; if they are successful and employ people, we all win.
Our partnerships with government and the private sector are strong; these relationships bring our people together, create jobs and job security and bring a sense of achievement and resilience. We are Hastings; we are hardworking; we are committed; we are strong and we are a resilient community and we are getting stronger by the day.
Intuitively we know the road to full economic recovery will be long, and paved with hard work and innovation, but we are confident that by working together as a connected community we will get through this and be the better for the experience.