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Lockdown hoedown . . The Bowen family - (from left) Melah (13), Nieve (10), Jane and Nigel - ham it up during Level 4 lockdown. Now, dad - and Timaru mayor - Nigel is looking towards South Canterbury's future. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Chris Tobin

South Canterbury’s leaders are optimistic the region’s diversified economy, bolstered by the rural sector, will allow it to transition into recovery as the Covid-19 crisis fades.

But it will not be easy.

“We are likely to weather this storm better than many other districts,” South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith said.

“The backbone of our economy is built on the agricultural sector with associated strengths in manufacturing and food processing, and the demand for food and high-quality safe food will remain globally.”

Timaru Mayor Nigel Bowen said his district was “in a strong position” due to the business base “with a strong primary sector and large food-type manufacturing”.

His council would be looking to accelerate planned projects as it would play an important role in rebuilding the economy.

“The districts that seize every opportunity will be the strongest facing lower unemployment and lower social and psycho-social issues.”

Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley said 73% of Waimate district’s workforce remained in full employment.

“The medium to long-term viability will depend on the existence of a market to sell our goods and patronage of our retail outlets.”

Mackenzie’s tourism sector has been dealt a body blow but Mayor Graham Smith said it also had a thriving agricultural sector.

“Our farmers have been affected by this crisis but they have weathered many a storm. They will no doubt come out stronger through this and continue to be the engine of the rural economy.”

Mr Smith said the future of tourism was still uncertain.

“Operators and business owners are already proactively working through their options of what the immediate and longer-term ‘new normal’ will look like.”

He said an opportunity existed to promote domestic tourism to hasten recovery.

Mr Smith said any extension of a wage subsidy for struggling businesses, a targeted commercial rental scheme and tax relief would also help the South Canterbury region get back on its feet.

South Canterbury councils, as well as others from around the country, have applied for funding from the Government’s “shovel ready” infrastructure scheme for projects that cost more than $10million.

However, Wellington financial commentator Infometrics has stated its analysis showed prior to Covid-19 the Provincial Growth Fund and other Government policies had not moved at pace with only a trickle of funding going to the regions.

A total of $1.8billion of Provincial Growth Funding had been announced while the actual paid funding to date was only $300million funding – just 16% of total announced funding.

“Some areas, like Northland, have been promised a significant boost in spending, but have only seen a limited amount of actual cash so far.”