Rise of the Regions (The Spinoff)

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Recently we had the honour of getting a write up in The Spinoff as part of an article about economical development in the regions.

Below is an excerpt featuring MacBlack. You can read the full article here.


 The staff at MacBlack in Whanganui make their primary industry timber yard seem like an artisan workshop. The younger staff, in blue jeans, five panel hats and black t-shirts folded at the sleeves, look like they could be working in an Auckland advertising agency if it weren’t for the sawdust covering their clothes. Their older colleagues treat their work with the precision of architects. 

Just a couple of blocks from the banks of the Whanganui river that carves through the centre of the city, the team at MacBlack are busy processing their sustainably harvested timber. Their wood has become so popular they are building an additional 320 m2 shed to keep up with demand. 

MacBlack is part of a vibrant emerging Whanganui economy, a key element in a resurgence that is quickly attracting new residents to the region. In October the population of Whanganui hit 48,100 – its largest ever headcount – and is set to reach 50,000 for the first time in its history in the next two years. As the pandemic has revealed that many of us can work from almost anywhere, and living costs in the major centres have forced a reconsideration of the quarter acre dream, Manawatū-Whanganui is among the regions that are being seen in a whole new light. 

Thanks to a thick covering of native bush, forestry and sawmilling were an essential part of the Manawatū-Whanganui region’s 19th-century settler economy. MacBlack is a distinctly modern revision of this early timber industry. The company utilises a long list of apps and programmes to manage their projects, complete their timesheets, pay staff and communicate with an ever-growing number of clients. Owner Richard Thompson loves wood and is an advocate for its role in a more sustainable future for New Zealand.

One of the key sources of MacBlack’s supply is the Papaiti forest owned by Thompson’s family. “We started planting over 30 years ago and now are starting to get some really lovely trees,” he says during a tour of the MacBlack timber yard.




At 3pm a bell rings across the yard and the staff all head in for a smoko. The crew chat easily over coffee. Thompson is proud of his MacBlack team, his company and his town.

“Whanganui has got the sense of a city that’s had a bit of a renaissance. The fact that there are people coming to live here creates economic development which creates jobs, and that creates more opportunity for people to come in,” he says. 

“There’s a lot of young people who have moved here and a number of our employees have come here looking for somewhere to live that’s not in a big centre and somewhere where they can afford to buy a house. These are people that have lived around the world and they’ve got some really amazing skills and they bring a lot to the business.” 

One of these people is MacBlack employee George Wright, who moved here from England two years ago and fell in love with Whanganui. Ask him what keeps him here and he doesn’t have to think long. 

“The people. The drive they have to make this place something special. The sense of community I’ve found. Those two things combined just make me excited to be here and feel a part of something moving in such a positive direction. It’s a real hidden gem,” he says.