Drainage and river control works were essential to development of the plain, and subdivision of local land into small holdings followed in their wake. Hop gardens were established at Riverslea as early as 1884, but it was not till 20 years or so later that the phenomenal development of orchard fruitgrowing got under way. A cannery at Frimley was set up in 1904. Subdivision of larger inland holdings was under way then, too, and more intensive livestock farming with the intensive agriculture on the plain was reflected especially in the growth of Hastings, with plenty of flat land about it to expand. Its saleyards at Stortford Lodge, the biggest in the province, and its meatworks and new showgrounds at Tomoana reflect its present status as a centre of the farming economy.
But it has been the remarkable growth of the canneries set up in 1934 by J. Wattie and Co. that has given Hastings something of a special place in the economy of Hawke's Bay and the country at large. Growing, canning, and merchandising of fruit and vegetables gives employment, directly and indirectly, to many people, and the annual blossom festival is a symbol of the special role of Hastings and the Heretaunga Plain in all this. The attraction of site and location has brought other assorted industrial ventures to it.
The expansion of Napier was more or less restricted by its site, but the built-up area now spreads inland to new suburbs on the plain. It has always had a special function as the only reasonably good port on the east coast. A Harbour Board set up in 1875 faced immediate controversy over building a breakwater; the entrance to the inner harbour of the early days was becoming bar bound and the harbour itself silting up. Construction started in 1887 and, since then, a serviceable harbour has been maintained. With better overland communications, however, the southern section of the province has tended rather to look to the port of Wellington for its outlet.
The twin cities of the productive heart of Hawke's Bay were most grievously stricken by the earthquake of 3 February 1931, when the area about the old Ahuriri Lagoon was raised considerably. Here the main airport of the province has been built.