Entrepreneurial Spirit Helps Region to Prosper

Bucking the trend seen throughout the rest of the country, a small West Coast town has shown a 40 percent increase in visitor spending during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In contrast to national trend numbers, visitor spending in Reefton jumped from $5.1 million, pre-Covid in 2019 to $7.2m in 2021, according to data from MarketView.

Development West Coast (DWC) chief executive Heath Milne said the historic gold-mining town has been a post-Covid success story.

"Reefton is home to some of the best fishing and mountain biking in the world, but what really makes the town stand out is the civic pride and entrepreneurial spirit of locals who have been working together to bring Reefton back to its former glory."

The border closures saw the small town lose around $680,000 in annual spending from international visitors, but an influx of domestic visitors injected an additional $2.8m into the economy last year alone.

Reefton was a boom town during the gold rush days, but like many small towns in regional New Zealand it fell into decline towards the end of the 20th century. To counter this locals have been working together, over the past few decades, to revitalise the town.

An early initiative, in 2002, was to reinstate the distinctive character of the town's main street - through the Reefton Shop Front Project.

Regional economic development agency DWC provided a commercial loan to a community-led group, which was then able to on lend to shop owners at reasonable rates, enabling business owners to renovate their shop fronts in a heritage style.

"The shop front project was an innovative model for community economic development, a leap of faith at the time for the investment made," said Paul Thomas who was part of the project team, and also co-invested in the Broadway Tearooms & Bakery, originally built in 1874.

This project helped restore several shop fronts, lighting the spark for future developments.

Patsy Bass is another who was drawn back to the small West Coast town. Together with her husband, the couple established the Reefton Distilling Co in 2017 in one of the town's original buildings - the restored 1870s Haralds General Store.

The award-winning distillery has become a major attraction and has since grown to employ up to 25 staff. It has a revenue of over $3 million and has built a new, larger distillery on the edge of town which is soon to open.

Reefton isn't just relying on tourism. Mining, the local dairy industry, and the service sector that supports them, are all contributing to ensure broad based economic growth for the town of 920 people.

First published by RNZ, Republished with permission.