In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Whanganui was included in the world's Smart21 Intelligent Communities by the Intelligent Community Forum.
Whanganui has a strong industry base, with a history of niche manufacturing. Current businesses include Q-West Boat Builders, based at the Port who have built boats for customers from around New Zealand and the world and were awarded a contract in 2015 to build two 34-meter passenger ferries for Auckland ferry company Fullers.
Pacific Helmets is another example of award-winning niche manufacturing in the district, winning a Silver Pin at the Best Design Awards in October 2015.
Much of Whanganui's economy relates directly to the fertile and prosperous farming hinterland near the town. Heads Road is Whanganui's main industrial area and is home to a number of manufacturing and engineering operations.
The Wanganui Port, once the centre of industrial transport, still has some traffic but is more noted for the Q-West boat building operation there. F. Whitlock & Sons Ltd was a notable company first established in 1902.