Queenstown tech park could strain local infrastructure

The head of Queenstown software development company Ibis Technology is doubtful the town has the infrastructure for a technology development of the scale US-based Kiwi Jason Neal is proposing.

The head of Queenstown software development company Ibis Technology is doubtful the town has the infrastructure for a technology development of the scale US-based Kiwi Jason Neal is proposing.

Queentown-bred Neal has been touting the idea of a 700-staff technology park in the area.

Ibis’s Erik Bradshaw says he had difficulty filling just two positions for VB and SQL Server developers at the start of the year despite going through a major recruitment firm. He believes while people would like to live in Queenstown, they’re not prepared to risk leaving the main centres where the job market is bigger.

“I had people from Auckland saying they’d come and work during the ski season but we wanted permanent staff. In the end I advertised locally and found two people living here who had the skills.”

But other Queenstown business people are positive about a technology park in the town.

Councillor Kathy Neal says Jason Neal — who is her son — has kept the council informed of his plans and the council is fully supportive.

Jay Cassells, who co-owns Queenstown film company Huntaway Films with actor Sam Neill, says the concept sounds appropriate for the town. “I’m in favour of sustained development where you’re not strip-mining what’s there,” Cassells says.

Chamber of Commerce head Clive Geddes says he supports “anything that will widen the business space in Queenstown”.

Meanwhile, Neal says his plans are on hold again following Helen Clark’s message at the recent Knowledge Wave conference that company taxes won’t be cut.

Neal is based in San Francisco, where he founded GHS Global, a reservation software company. He had planned to visit Queenstown to gauge local support for the tech park before putting a proposal to the council.

“The prime minister’s statements at the Knowledge Wave conference, specifically an unwillingness to support proactive economic policies including tax incentives, means we no longer have confidence moving forward under the current government,” Neal says.

“I am talking to National Party representatives and a decision will be made when we are confident they are going to win the next election. If corporate tax incentives are not introduced, it is not likely this project will be established in New Zealand.”

Neal has said he envisages an operation with 50 employees initially, growing to 700.

Says Bradshaw: “There are a lot of basic infrastructure considerations such as accommodation. I think setting up a building and calling it a technology park is only about five or 10% of the issue.”

Geddes admits accommodation is a problem in the area. “But I hadn’t envisaged that in the early stages it [the park] would be providing thousands of jobs. The problem is actually being resolved slowly by the private sector which is building accommodation.”

Neal, who signs himself on email as president and CEO, Technology Park Project (NZ) San Francisco, says, “I would not have spent three years working on this project if it was just talk. The final business model was formulated over the past 12 to 18 months.

“But at this stage the project may not be established in Queenstown. We are considering other locations, including Australia, where the government is willing to discuss tax incentives in consideration of the economic earnings this project offers.

“Myself and my associates would prefer to see the project in Queenstown, otherwise we would have discounted New Zealand months ago. If Queenstown is decided upon, local interest groups will be a priority as I feel it extremely important for the community to understand the benefits, and be a part of this.”

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