How quiet Kerepehi changed its status

10:03 AM Wednesday April 20, 2016 Paul Charman

Sections identified for sale in the Hauraki Park development.

The tiny Waikato town of Kerepehi once resembled one of those semi-deserted rural communities unkindly referred to as “zombie towns”.

The dairy factory had long ceased operations, the War Memorial Hall and domain were seldom used and a close-knit rural community — which proudly sent 15 soldiers to World War I and 49 to World War II — mustered only 429 residents last census night.

But this dot on State Highway 2, between Ngatea and Paeroa, is emerging as an industrial and food technology hub.

Industrial sections are both well serviced and relatively cheap, proximity to two major ports has been noted far and wide and the moniker “Edmonds Town” seems most apt; like the famous baking powder this place seems “sure to rise”.

Transformation began a few years ago, when the Hauraki District Council spent $9 million upgrading the town’s water treatment plant to accommodate existing farms, plus future industrial growth. The council also approved a plant to process waste water from food processing.

Then Hauraki Mayor John Tregidga led an economic delegation to China and Taiwan to promote Kerepehi and its useful proximity to both Tauranga and Auckland Ports.

In 2014 the previously derelict dairy factory was taken over by Chinese-owned icecream manufacturer Allied Faxi Food Company.

The plant has been converted into an export-focused ice cream manufacturing plant, employing 15 staff sourced from local townships including: Kerepehi, Ngatea, Paeroa and Thames. Plans exist to ramp up workforce numbers to 50 by the end of the year, as offshore demand for product grows.

Some 23 industrial building sites immediately opposite the dairy factory have been tagged for future development. Seven of these — from 2020sq m to 12,392sq m — have been sold through Bayleys Hamilton.

Commercial and industrial sales specialist Josh Smith credits the visionary council with the success of Kerepehi’s Hauraki Park food hub.

He points out that the council removed development contribution fees, making it cheaper for developers to build new premises. Savings were passed on to incoming tenants or owner/occupiers.

“Hauraki District Council has taken some bold and innovative moves to attract new business to the region, and that’s a strategy which has certainly paid off. Employment is on the up and economic activity in the region has grown through on-going building and construction project work being undertaken,” he said.

“While location is important for business relocating — both in terms of sourcing labour and getting product to market — cash flow is crucial.

“Money talks and every dollar saved through the removal of development contribution fees goes directly into the relocation budget.”

Kerepehi sits in the middle of what has been termed New Zealand’s “golden triangle” — between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

Since Allied Faxi took up residence as an anchor tenant, four other industrial companies have followed suit.

One of the neighbouring businesses is residential structural timber manufacturer Pohutakawa Frames and Trusses, which employs 23 staff.

Its products are transported to Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

Smith says Bayleys is in negotiation with four other companies looking to buy development land and relocate to the Kerepehi block.

“Building consents are now with the council for the potential construction of new premises to house these businesses. Proposed structures range from large steel and aluminium framed warehousing and logistics facilities, through to specialised workshops and design/builds.”

Hauraki District Council’s Chairman of Economic Development, Councillor Toby Adams is excited about the future of Kerepehi.

“While our location and affordable land prices are important we can offer so much more to companies wanting to establish in Hauraki. We have attracted the attention of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and the Waikato Innovation Park. Both of these entities are offering support to local businesses, especially those who have export potential.”

Adams and economic development manager, David Fielden, will visit China next month, where they will meet with companies wishing to distribute Kiwi-made products.

“We’ve created significant relationships within the Chinese business community which will provide Hauraki businesses with access to this huge consumer-driven market,” said Adams.