‘Can’t bear to see us struggle again’

Ask tech entrepreneur Roger Sharp why he’s founded tech development agency Technology Queenstown (TQ) and he harks back to Covid — and how the resort’s reliance on tourism made us so vulnerable.

‘‘As a proud local [of 22 years], it just brought tears to your eyes when the tumbleweeds were blowing down the street, people were having financial stress, people committed suicide and people got divorced.

‘‘You’ve got to have other engines of growth in the economy to weather those storms — you can’t let our people go through that again.’’

TQ was officially launched yesterday along with the economic strategy underpinning it.

Sharp says the tech sector represents about 7.5% of GPD nationally, ‘‘and in really well-developed cities and mountain towns in the US that can go as high as 15 or 20%’’.

‘‘Queenstown’s at 1.5%.

‘‘Over the next two or three years, annual GDP for Queenstown-Lakes will be about $4 billion a year — every [extra] 1% will be worth, say, $40m.

‘‘Just getting to the national average is a quarter billion dollars.

‘‘If we then take it to where Bend, Oregon, or Boulder, Colorado are, over 20 years, that could go as high as $1b extra in GDP.’’

So how do we get there?

‘‘Our job is to get a university here, get a talent pool developed, get people trained in contemporary technology skills so there’s a workforce available, it’s to attract more workers here, companies here.

‘‘I see this as having quite a slow start over the first five years — you just can’t solve affordable housing overnight, you can’t get a university to move here overnight, but we’ve certainly got plans discussed to do many of those things.’’

Sharp says TQ will employ three or four people, starting with a CEO or executive director, and could cost $800,000 to $1m a year to run.

They’re not looking for government money, however.

‘‘We think building a 20-year vision is somewhat undermined by having a three-year electoral cycle dictate when you get funding or not.

‘‘I reckon we’ve raised about 40% of the money already to operate our first few years.

‘‘There’s still a lot of work to do, but I’ve put my hand in my pocket and leaned on some fellow tech professionals or companies that really love Queenstown and said, ‘look, if I’m putting my hand in my pocket, you should, as well’.

‘‘And they are, to their credit, stepping up.’’

As to where TQ will be based, Sharp replies: ‘‘I think whoever will give us free premises.’’

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