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 North Island 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 now less protected from imports, especially of 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
Unlike many South Island centres, Palmerston North did not have a substantial tourist economy. Nor did it have a large domestic market, as Auckland did. Its population crept up from 64,000 to 80,000 between 1976 and 2013. But its share of Manawatū’s population increased from 61% in 1961 to 74% in 2013.
A new cultural vitality saw the establishment of a professionally run art gallery, a museum and a theatre in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Manawatū hosts key bases of New Zealand’s 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 was defence-related. In 2013 public administration and defence employed 8% of the labour force, compared with 3% nationally. The defence share will increase with further development of Ōhakea air force base, established in 1939, following 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 (more than 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 provided incubation, marketing and brokerage services to assist interaction between business and science. Manawatū was also home to other entrepreneurial businesses, including 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 Turk’s Poultry in Foxton.