By MATTHEW MCKEW
International tech firms could soon have offices at a new Queenstown innovation campus,
providing a piece of land can be found.
Former developer Ross Allan, who brought Dell to New Zealand in the late ‘90s, says he’s lined up household names for tenancies and has an investor in the wings.
He’s now looking for a location that fulfills the main requirement of taking in the Wakatipu Basin’s stunning views and lack of urban sprawl.
Startup Queenstown Lakes boss Olivia Wensley says it’s a ‘‘golden opportunity’’ and there’s support from both sides of parliament for something like it.
She says Labour finance man Grant Robertson indicated support for that type of idea over dinner, while National’s Judith Collins committed to making tech jobs, especially in Queenstown, a priority.
Allan won’t name the firms he’s talking to, but says they’re keen to find a way to retain workers who’ve had enough of the rat-race in big cities.
He says cash incentives and shares only go so far to retain high-level staff who yearn for the outdoors or to raise a family.
‘‘People in the tech space and I’m not necessarily talking about ICT, want a life, they think, ‘can I do my work in a place I can better value my spare time’?’’
Allan also says there’ll be jobs for Kiwis, either through collaboration or roles spawned by the new offices.
Further, he says the people using the campus are likely to be well paid, meaning a welcome boost for the hard-hit hospo sector.
The allure of Queenstown’s one Allan knows well himself, having come here from Auckland in the early 2000s to raise a family.
After three years of work, he says plans are nearing fruition, and a design for the campus could be ready in six months.
Should it get off the ground, Allan says there’s opportunity for domestic and international
businesses to find a home, but he also wants to be ‘‘tenant-selective’’.
‘‘You don’t want start-ups unless they are well funded, if we [Queenstown] want to economically diversify.’’
Wensley says having ‘‘mature companies’’ will create an ‘‘ecosystem’’ for Kiwi start-ups to feed off, and even suggests some big-firm employees may spin off to launch their own tech ideas.
‘‘It’s such a golden opportunity and we need to throw full support behind it as a community.’’
Wensley says a tech campus will also help keep Wakatipu High School leavers in the area, who otherwise leave in search of higher education or work.
Allan says he has an internationally-recognised university keen to run short executive
courses from within the campus or remotely.
He’s hoping to bring a Kiwi university on board, too.
Queenstown Chamber of Commerce boss Craig Douglas welcomes the suggestion, saying
‘‘anything that brings diversification to the economy has to be a good thing’’.
He says Covid-19 stated the case for working remotely and saw people ‘‘take stock of their lives over lockdown’’.
‘‘Some of their priorities will be shifting and where they live may be more of an issue for them.
‘‘There are various examples of satellite offices all around the world and Queenstown can easily piggyback on that concept.’’
Allan made headlines early last year when he admitted 42 charges of failing to furnish GST and income tax returns between 2012 and 2016, cheating the tax man out of $186,000.
He was sentenced to 120 hours’ community work, having lost substantial money a decade earlier on a flopped property development at Bendemeer, by Lake Hayes, and being adjudicated bankrupt in 2010.
Of the IRD charges, Allan says he ‘‘should have taken better advice’’.
‘‘Don’t take the Inland Revenue on.
‘‘Am I happy about it? No.
‘‘But it was what it was.’’