Sun, Jan 21, 2024 10:00 AM

New year, new challenges


William Woodworth

The dawn of 2024 has Marlborough’s business environment preparing for change on regional, national, and international scales.

While major public works projects sit in a holding pattern, the wine industry prepares for harvest after successive large vintages and progress continues redeveloping the Clubs of Marlborough.

Marlborough Chamber of Commerce chief executive Pete Coldwell hopes questions that businesses across the region have will be answered with positive news over the next few months.

“We were eyeing up an incredibly exciting two to three years in construction with the new Summerset Village, the iReX project and Te Tātoru o Wairau driving a massive amount of investment in that side of business in the region”, says Pete.

“Some aspects, like phase one of Te Tātoru o Wairau - the new hockey turf - is almost ready to add to the fantastic public sporting amenities in Marlborough that visitors get jealous of, so there’s still progress being made.

“Everyone is in a holding pattern with the iReX project, and we’re waiting on questions to be answered with the new Government’s review of to what extent work will continue on vital local projects with, hopefully, more concrete answers shortly.”

Given the impact of the wine industry has on Marlborough, Pete says the 2024 vintage may bring different challenges to recent years.

“This is probably the first time in this role I’ve had winegrowers not wanting a big vintage, as supply is still on the market whereas last year there was very little 2022 vintage around”, says Pete.

“Water is already concerning some this year and from what I’ve heard flowering has been mixed so far, so with a few months to go until harvest we just can’t be sure of what the numbers are likely to be.

“There are millions of litres of wine from the 2023 vintage still on the market, so many are hoping that a similarly large vintage doesn’t eventuate this year.”

Local businesses in general are keeping a positive outlook on the future, according to the Chamber of Commerce’s November survey, and unemployment rates are remaining low regionally. However, Pete has concerns over high rates of people that are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

“Overall, there may be some nervousness in hospitality and construction businesses looking forward to 2024, but that’s not unique to Marlborough.

“We haven’t seen any upwards pressure on unemployment so far, but we also need to keep our focus on reducing NEET numbers and re-engaging people with work, education, or community groups”.

Pete points to the Clubs of Marlborough site, bought by a consortium led by Springlands Lifestyle Village developer Chris Thornley, as a positive sign for central Blenheim.

“I was pleased to see that a local group took over such an interesting building and it will be fascinating to see what comes of the Clubs building, especially with someone who has personal connections to the building and has already successfully invested in the region”, says Pete.

“I’ve got no idea what will happen despite hearing all the small-town rumours of what it could be like you get with like any large space in town, but at least there’s some progress to revitalising it”.

Pete acknowledges that seeing empty properties concerns people, especially in regional towns like Blenheim. However, he stresses Marlborough isn’t seeing an exodus of businesses.

“Instead, businesses are upgrading premises, moving to places with more foot traffic and investing in those new properties, just as many commercial businesses have on Middle Renwick Road and Park Terrace over the last few years.

“For national brand losses in the last year like Glassons, we’ve gained a Platypus Shoes and a Sketchers. Pascoe’s and Specsavers just moved into new places, Sakim Sushi have gone gangbusters since moving to the Forum and the team at Cranky Pantry is soon to follow suit”.

“Nowhere is perfect and I’d obviously like to see more premises full and business thriving, but there is positivity around town despite uncertainty, which is good to see”, he adds.

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