Recreating Silicon Valley

Just how do you re-create Silicon Valley? Cities and countries everywhere are seeking the recipe, and New Zealand is no exception.

Just how do you re-create Silicon Valley? Cities and countries everywhere are seeking the recipe, and New Zealand is no exception.

The latest to join the bandwagon is Dunedin, the South Island city that has just enjoyed a series of glowing profiles in the media.

Dunedin, noted for rugby and its university, is one of several New Zealand cities that sees technology as a way out of its troubles. Christchurch is another, with the Canterbury region branding itself as "the Silicon Plains", and the city trumpeting itself as the home of many start-ups and several larger IT firms.

Christchurch has been shaken lately, but it will be back, with hi-tech being an essential part of its recovery. Specialist facilities aimed at such enterprises are planned for its new central business district, when reconstruction eventually starts.

Dunedin's efforts at self-promotion seem like picking over a dead carcass, taking advantage of a neighbour while it is at its most vulnerable.

But even though thousands of Cantabrians have fled, Christchurch businesses say that they are back in business, and people should not be put off by the quakes and the damage caused.

The two South Island cities also face competition from New Zealand's North Island.

Wellington, the capital, also has a creative tech centre, and is home to Trade Me, probably the daddy of the country's tech scene in terms of capital valuation.

And then we have Auckland, the country's business capital and largest city, with well over one million people.

They all have impressive credentials in their bids to attract tech firms. All have their own unique technology clusters.

But which is more important in driving success and growth? Is it close access to the politicians in the capital? Is it being where all the other businesses are? How vital is a skilled workforce and access to universities? What about culture and quality of life?

Studies have been made on what made Silicon Valley the success story that it is.

Fortunately for New Zealand, the country and these cities do have similar characteristics. All four have fine universities, which will supply the workers for any tech-based venture. All four score highly on culture and lifestyle/quality of life issues.

While Auckland is an expensive, crowded, congested mess by New Zealand standards, it does have more variety in terms of arts and entertainment. In global lifestyle surveys, it always scores well.

Dunedin, by contrast, is cheap and uncrowded, which its IT bosses have told me they love. It also has a fine countryside on its doorstep, as well as skiing and wildlife. But I have found it's climate relatively grim and cold.

Wellington will always be a lively little capital, which explains why that city has many fans.

And when it is back on its feet, Christchurch will also have everything that tech firms will need.

Furthermore, all four cities have proactive local governments keen to help tech firms grow and prosper, be it help with marketing, training, finding properties and the like.

It's hard to say which of the factors is best for such an IT business. Much probably stems from the individual circumstances of a particular organisation. Indeed, the North Island farming centre of Hamilton, a pleasant university town, has a small tech scene based around agriculture!

While many countries seek the secrets of Silicon Valley's success, it is heartening to see a small country like New Zealand able to offer so much choice and diversity to technology entrepreneurs, so they can deliver almost whatever takes their fancy.


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