Feature article

Why are so many people wanting to work in Whanganui?

What's making Whanganui desirable to job seekers - and could similar opportunities help your community draw talent?

Something is going on in the pretty North Island city of Whanganui (population 48,900).

In October, it popped up in our radar as "Whanganui jobs" and "jobs in Whanganui" gained popularity in Google NZ mobile searches. And it’s not just the job market feeling the love. Local real estate agents are also reporting that a strong interest from out-of-town buyers is partly responsible for fuelling a surge in multiple offers on properties - which still remain very affordable in relative terms (Trade Me Property’s October 2023 Property Price Index in Manawatū-Whanganui was $578,550).

So what is it that’s making Whanganui so desirable - and could similar opportunities help your community draw talent?

Lifestyle is a key attraction

The city’s economic development agency, Whanganui & Partners. Rebecca Black, Strategic Lead of Marketing at the organisation, says whenever they advertise for a job a high number of applications come in from around the country.

David Brown, owner of David Brown Building is currently looking for a carpenter. He says he’s had quite a few inquiries from out of town, - some from Auckland, Christchurch and New Plymouth and he’s ready with the PR to sell the city. 

“Whanganui is a lovely place to live. It’s got some great history and it’s a wonderful place to bring up kids. If you enjoy doing outdoors stuff, between the mountains, the sea, hunting, fishing and bike riding, there’s plenty on offer,” he says.

World-leading sector opportunities are available

The biggest employment sector in the city is health care and social assistance, with Te Whatu Ora Whanganui, the largest employer in the health care sector. Manufacturing ranks second, and, in meat processing, AFFCO is a large employer.

Retail, construction, education and training are also important employment sectors for the Whanganui economy. 

Whanganui also really stands out for its world-leading industrial design manufacturers, says Rebecca. In 2021, the city was awarded UNESCO City of Design status in recognition of its manufacturing strength. One of the city’s manufacturers, Pacific Helmets, produces safety helmets for New York firefighters, while local company, Wight Aluminum, is one of the country’s largest aluminium fabricators. Suzuki is headquartered in Whanganui too.

A surprisingly handy location helps

There’s no doubt Whanganui is a lot smaller than the main cities, its population rising in 2023 by 0.6% to 48,900, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

But, located 2.5 hours from Wellington and an hour’s flight from Auckland, it’s actually a very central place to run a business from, says Ritesh Verma, Property Brokers Whanganui/Taranaki Area Manager.

Its location means the city is also benefiting from the rise in remote or hybrid working. According to Whanganui & Partners data partner, Infometrics, Whanganui’s work from home figure in 2022 was around 30%.

“Anecdotally, we hear about a good mix of people moving here to bring or set up their businesses,” says Rebecca. Some bring their jobs and work remotely, and many start looking for work after they’ve decided to move to Whanganui, she says.

Newcomers to the city have taken on projects there such as eateries, stores and galleries, she says.

A strong community and a mild climate draw new residents

One of the reasons that the city is drawing remote workers who have their pick of location is the sense of community. “New residents are soon engaged in community activities – Whanganui is renowned for its manaakitanga (expressing kindness and respect for others),” Rebecca explains.

Meanwhile, one of Whanganui’s biggest attractions seems to be its climate. “Our climate seems to be a frequent star of the six o’clock news,” she adds.

Ritesh agrees. He says Whanganui hasn’t been badly hit by all the storms this year, and that it’s never too hot or too cold. In fact it’s the fourth most temperate city in the world, he says.

A unique culture to explore

For those urban types afraid they might miss the big smoke, it’s a grand old town, originally designed to be a strong number two city to Wellington when founded in 1840. From 1916 to 1936, Whanganui was New Zealand’s fifth largest city.

“Whanganui’s got personality, it’s cultured, it’s a city where you feel like there’s something to it, you feel like you’re part of a community,” says Ritesh. The river is the heart of the city, with the Whanganui River Markets running every Saturday.

When it comes to amenities, the city has the Royal Whanganui Opera House for concerts and shows. One of the city’s most beautiful places to meet is the sprawling riverside Kowhai Park, and the Whanganui River Markets are always buzzing on Saturdays. And there’s a choice of beaches.

Katrina Hodge, an Aucklander and costume designer, who bought a home in the city 10 years ago says, “I absolutely fell in love with the town, the architecture there, the virtually untouched houses you can find there are mind-blowing. And it’s incredibly creative, there are a lot of artists, the community embraced me.”

Housing affordability is a key lure

Unsurprisingly, one of the big lures for those searching for jobs in the area, Whanganui is its housing affordability.

People can buy a very nice family home in Whanganui for $500,000 to $600,000, says Crystal Boyd, an agent with Bayleys Whanganui. And a budget of $700,000 to $900,000 will get you something relatively fancy in the high end suburbs.

First home buyers and downsizers looking to buy in the $400,000 to $700,000 range often look at suburbs like Whanganui East, Gonville and seaside Castlecliff, says Property Brokers manager, Ritesh.

Second home buyers whose kids are school age often opt for the suburb of Springvale whose homes are in the $450,000 to $900,000 range. Then, those homebuyers with a $550,000 to $1.5 million budget tend to buy in St Johns Hill, College Estate, Bastia Hill and Durie Hill, he suggests.

At the other end of the spectrum, for people coming from urban centres who enjoy city living, old office buildings are being converted into apartments, like the old Whanganui Chronicle building which overlooks the river.

Local agents confirm that homes are appealing to buyers from all around the country. Tessa Pudney from Property Brokers says a lot of her sales are currently going to out-of-towners, coming from Wellington, from Palmerston North and Auckland.

A recently sold, spacious family-friendly home in Saint Johns Hill, caught the interest of expat buyers and another out-of-towner moving to Whanganui to work at the hospital, she says.

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