From the 1960s, Manawatū’s economic and population growth slowed – as in other regions away from the main centres.
Rural areas virtually stopped growing. Dairy factories merged (most processing is now carried out at a plant in Hāwera, Taranaki). Improved communications and transport, and restructuring of government services (itself partly a product of those improvements) combined to focus activities in towns and cities.
Impact on towns
The towns were also hit. Feilding suffered from the rural downturn of the mid- to late 1980s and early 1990s, and from cutbacks in the frozen-meat industry. Levin was less protected from imports, especially in clothing. The Manawatū Consumers’ Co-operative Society was a victim of both increased competition from supermarkets and the 1987 sharemarket crash. It stopped trading in 1988.
Growth in Palmerston North
Palmerston North did not have a substantial tourist economy, unlike many South Island centres. Nor did it have a large domestic market, as Auckland did. Its population grew from 64,000 to just 80,000 between 1976 and 2013. But its share of Manawatū’s population did increase from 61% in 1961 to 74% in 2013.
A new vitality saw the establishment of a professionally run art gallery, a museum and a theatre in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Manawatū is home base to the New Zealand army and air force. The army base at Linton expanded in the 1960s and some of the region’s biggest spending in the 1990s and 2000s has been in defence. In 2013 public administration and defence employed 8.0% of the labour force, compared with 3.0% nationally. The defence share will increase with the development of Ōhakea air force base, first established in 1939, following on from the expansion of the Linton army camp in the 1990s.
Education and research
Over the same period there was also a big investment in education. By 2013 the education sector employed 11.5% of the Manawatū labour force (over 6,100 out of 53,900) compared with 8.6% nationally.
The region has a high proportion of workers in the knowledge industry, and in the early 2000s over 1,000 people were employed full-time in research.
In 2004 Integration Technologies of Palmerston North won a contract to outfit more than 1,000 petrol stations run by Pakistan State Oil with automated hardware for supply and billing. The same year R&D Solutionz, also Palmerston North-based, won a contract with a Korean company for worldwide use of a watchdog electronic system.
In the early 2000s the Manawatū Bio Commerce Centre aimed to provide incubation, marketing and brokerage services for the interaction of business and science. Manawatū was also home to other entrepreneurial businesses such as Obo, Clickclack, R&D Solutionz and Integration Technologies.
In 2013, 23.7% of the Horowhenua population was aged 65 years and over (compared with 14.3% nationally). Businesses catering for retired people were important in Horowhenua, and there was more health-related industry than the national average.
Organic horticulture contributed to employment and growth: in 2013 the proportion of the Horowhenua labour force working in agriculture, forestry and fishing (16.7%) was well above the national figure (5.7%).
Manufacturing was a significant employer, surviving despite competition from low-cost producers in Asia and the Pacific. In 2013 nearly 15% of the labour force was employed in manufacturing, compared to 10.9% nationally. Carter Holt Harvey was one of the biggest employers in Levin, near where F. J. Carter started the original sawmilling business in 1896. A new company, but in a traditional line, was Turks Poultry in Foxton.