Queenstown is ramping up plans to build a massive technology sector that could bring in billions to the district.
The southern town is pushing to diversify its economy after the pandemic brought the adventure capital to a standstill when the borders closed.
While international visitors are returning, the tourism mecca is launching a development agency, Technology Queenstown, to attract and market the district as a place to do hi-tech business.
Roger Sharp has been working on the project for around four years.
“We want it to be tourism, hospitality, plus tech, plus other things,” he said.
“So when the next pandemic comes we’re not on our knees.”
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Eliot Drake, who runs laser and water-cutting engineering firm WAI Innovation in Wānaka.
The American has worked in tech firms, big and small, including involvement with Google.
He told 1News: “I’ve been a part of several efforts over the years… I think the net benefit for the region is huge.”
Queenstown Business Chamber chief executive Sharon Fifield is thrilled the project is moving ahead.
“There’s been lots of talk around the need to foster new industries for Queenstown. Obviously, we’re very strong in the visitor industry already and construction, but technology we see as a huge opportunity.”
Technology Queenstown conducted its own independent research that found the sector would need an extra 3000 people over the next 20 years to grow the industry to $1 billion per year.
The industry currently provides around 1.5% to the district’s GDP, but that could climb to 20% by 2043.
The local tertiary institute is also focusing on tech subjects, rather than just tourism and hospitality.
“We’ve hit three main areas — machine learning, data analytics and cloud computing and we’ll continue to add to that suite of programmes over coming years to match the demands and the changes in the industry,” Queenstown Resort College chief executive Charlie Phillips said.
The main focus now is getting the basic infrastructure up to scratch, including affordable housing and high-speed internet.
“I think we have to be quite transparent about this, people are sleeping in cars here. People can’t find affordable housing. I know of one start-up founder who couldn’t find childcare for her baby while she’s trying to build a tech company. So it’s quite difficult,” Sharp said.
“There are some silly things that are specific to being way down south here… sometimes there isn’t good internet access and FedEx takes a week to get here… things that are kind of common to any other industry.”
Despite the issues, leaders are confident the predicted growth is sustainable.
“We’re not going to wreck Queenstown or wreck the environment. It’s a relatively small number of high value people and if we are successful, we will attract the likes of Google or Microsoft, but they’ll be small offices,” Sharp said.