Rescuing the regions: Masterton fights back

Rescuing the regions: Masterton fights back

It's tough in the regions right now. They've been hit by ageing populations, high unemployment and plummeting dairy prices.

Take Taranaki, for example. The ANZ's regional trends survey says it's in recession.

The economies of seven other New Zealand regions shrank in the last quarter.

But little old Masterton in the Wairarapa isn't taking this lying down.

The Masterton District Council has funded an aggressive national marketing campaign already underway to lure new residents from all the major centres.

"I'd love hundreds of people to move here," says Mayor Lyn Patterson. "We have the infrastructure the capability to grow."

That message has attracted people like Matthew Dudley and his family, who are swapping Remuera for the rural life.

"We were at the dentist and I saw the flyer they put out in the Herald," says Mr Dudley.

He says the cost of living, housing, traffic and the work-life balance has turned him off Auckland.

"I'm self-employed. I own a construction firm, so we'll be doing renovation or new housing in the area. So we still have work up in Auckland that we will carry on with, but we will start moving business down here."

But the Dudleys are going against the trend. Masterton's biggest problem, like many of this country's regions, is hanging on to its young people.

The population has grown by just 900 over the past decade, and the only age group expanding is 55- to 84-year-olds.

The Mayor says it time for central Government to do more for the regions by incentivising and encouraging business to look outside the main centres.

"The focus from central Government may be great in that they are focusing where a greater number of people are, but we can no longer do that at the demise of our regions," says Ms Patterson. "We have capacity, as do others, so let's get people out of Auckland and down to Masterton."

Last year Air New Zealand pulled flights from Masterton and, while it was a commercial decision, Ms Patterson is upset that as a majority shareholder the Government didn't do more to try and save the service.

But it's not all bad. The Government is part-funding an expensive water storage scheme, and the rollout of ultrafast broadband is another perfect example of just how the Government can influence the prosperity regions like the Wairarapa.

It helped attract Vic Oliver, who built the world's first 3D printer that printed a 3D printer. It was a development that dramatically dropped the cost of the technology.

Because of the internet quality in the area, it's a viable base for him to run the research and development arm of his company.

There are many benefits to moving to place like Masterton, but it won't work for everybody. If you aren't self-employed, the job situation can be an issue.

The number of people on benefits is also higher than the national average.

So the council has set a target of helping to create 500 new jobs, but there's only so much it can do.

It relies on businesses like Powershop, which is expressing confidence and expanding. When it's finished, its call centre will create another 70 jobs.

All new residents and businesses are offered an exclusive audience with the Mayor over a cuppa and a slice – you wouldn't get that in the cities, would you?