Nyeri town has for a long time stagnated in economic growth, and massive infrastructural projects in the pipeline may again lock out the metropolis from the gravy train that comes with new ventures.
Revival of the Nairobi-Nanyuki railway and the proposed dualing of the Kenol-Makutano-Marua section of the Nyeri-Nairobi highway is expected to ignite a boom for towns along the corridors.
But Nyeri town itself is off the path of these corridors, with the road and old railway terminating more than 10 kilometres away from the former provincial headquarters - and the influx of investors has shifted to smaller satellite urban centres.
The town’s economy largely revolves around retail enterprises with projections indicating that rapid development in small towns along the upcoming infrastructure projects could steal its thunder.
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Central Region Economic Bloc Chief Executive Ndirangu Gachunia said the holistic effect of the dual highway that terminates at Marua creates a node of growth in the small towns.
“The growth spillover at Marua is likely to affect Gatitu on one side and Kiganjo on the other,” he told Home & Away.
“When there is a major highway development, growth happens 40 kilometres on both sides of the highway. This (also) means there will be decongestion of Nyeri town.”
Operation of the Nairobi-Nanyuki railway is expected to restart in July and the project will open up small towns such as Marua, Karatina, Kiganjo and Chaka.
There is excitement also in Maragua, Sagana and Naromoru as the two major infrastructural projects take shape and investors seek to cash in on the opportunities the projects will bring.
Already the towns are shaping up for business with the FK Hotel, Bantu Resort and Bradegate Hotels being the latest establishments at Marua targeting tourists.
Marua is a small but growing urban centre at a junction where the Nyeri-Nairobi highway branches off to Nanyuki, a popular tourist destination and frontier to the hinterland.
Bypassing Nyeri town in the expansion of the Great North Road eventually to Isiolo could kill the town.
Buildings established in Nyeri decades ago remain unchanged as owners are reluctant to sell them or redevelop them, hence discouraging investors.
As a result the town may suffer the fate of neighbouring Murang’a town, which was bypassed in the construction of the Great North Road that opened up smaller towns such as Sagana and Karatina.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), Nyeri Chapter Vice-Chairman Ndegwa Mureithi said establishment and geographical location of Nyeri town mirrors that of Ruiru and Thika.
“The towns are off the highway and anyone going there must have business there. This locks out new people from the towns,” he told Home & Away.
He, however, said that though the revival of the railway line and dualing of the road will give advantage to the satellite towns, Nyeri still holds significant developments.
“There will be advantages to the towns that are along the highways but that does not mean Nyeri will die in terms of economic development. It holds many retail businesses,” said Mr Mureithi.
He said the town’s design is good and enables the expansion of business.
“The planning was done well and relocation of the bus termini from town centre to the Asian centre will give room for expansion,” he said.
The areas around King’ongo and Kiganjo were the designated industrial zones in Nyeri County. Most land buyers speculated for a boom but the land remains largely undeveloped after collapse of business.
Although the county government is planning to revive the industrial zones, Karatina, Kiganjo and Chaka could take the lion’s share of the benefits that come with huge transport projects.
For instance, construction of a new railway station in Chaka positions the town for transportation of industrial cargo, establishment of a logistics hub and innovation in value addition of agricultural products.
Mr Gachunia said Nyeri County is in the process of reviewing the map to land use from industrial to residential or commercial around the areas designated for industries.
“We can have a change of lane such that people can now invest in container business for storage of goods ferried to and from Nairobi and Mombasa,” he said.
KNCCI Nyeri Chairman Ibrahim Ndegwa said with Kenya Railways targeting Nyandarua County as the source of potatoes, Nyeri shapes up as a transit town for transportation of bulk goods.
“The county government needs to be intentional to create an enabling business environment,” he said.
“We are expecting a booming godown business and investors will need safety assurance for their goods to do business round the clock,” said Mr Ndegwa.
Kenya Railways Managing Director Phillip Mainga said the demand for rail service guaranteed a business boom in the region.
“We have interacted with key customers among them Vivo Energy and large-scale farmers for transportation of fuel, beef and agricultural products,” he said.
Other companies coming on board include logistics firm Kuehne Nagel, which Mainga said has specialised containers for ferrying of horticultural products.
A science park coming up at Dedan Kimathi University is also expected to boost investment in residential infrastructure around Mweiga in Kieni.
The Sh6.5 billion science complex could lead to increased demand for land in Kieni as the establishment will incorporate hotels, offices, conference centres and recreational venues.
Mureithi further said growth of the satellite towns to industrial hubs would be an advantage to the county.
“Major industries need enough space and the small towns are ideal for such investments,” said the business expert.
Among the industries set to experience business boom include New Kenya Co-operative Creameries in Kiganjo.
Kieni Member of Parliament Kanini Kega said they are excited because the projects will create employment opportunities in the related counties.
“Construction of a new station in Chaka will revive the industrial sector in this area and enable entry for new companies,” he said.
The railway, the MP said, will reduce transportation costs for bulky goods from the farms to Mombasa port for export.