Take the Wellington broadband and coffee to the country

The Wellington quakes have again raised the issue for business: Could we base ourselves in a better location? This is especially so for the tech sector, as, relative to other industries, it is pretty weightless.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

Tech does not rely on lush pasture for its location, or minerals in the ground, but rather the brains of its workers — plus the availability of broadband and electricity.

When the Christchurch earthquakes struck a couple of years ago, the bulk of the city's IT sector simply moved to the suburbs, operating from people's homes or whatever premises were still available.

The local grit, resolve, and patriotism of the proud Cantabrians ensured that they stayed put, though tens of thousands of people did flee to Auckland, Hamilton, and even Wellington.

While it is far too soon to write off New Zealand's capital, already suffering from cuts in the size of government, I am sure there will be many a boss thinking "what if...?"

Prior to the quake, Wellington tech sector cheerleaders were promoting the compact nature of the city, which makes networking all the more convenient.

You can cross the CBD by foot within minutes, which is far easier than driving across the more sprawled-out Auckland or Christchurch, we were told. And by walking along the main shopping street, with its fine cafes, you will come across virtually everyone you need to know.

Now, despite those regular complaints of labour shortages, Wellington has a good skills base, and a great critical mass of successful technology companies.

But what if people decide they want to leave? Then what?

When it comes to basing your business, the availability of skilled workers is one of those top concerns.

The issue was again raised when government figures were released last week on the size and progress of New Zealand's tech sector.

Tech, according to the government, amounts to just over 5 percent of New Zealand's economy; it employs more than 70,000 people; it's growing healthily; and it pays double the national average wage.

While Wellington might boast of its technological prowess, the industry is largely located in Auckland, home to one third of such jobs, including half of the country's "computer system design" jobs.

Auckland faces skill shortages, too, as well as the highest living costs in the country, which is bound to hit the profitability and competitiveness of all those operating there.

But I guess the better availability of labour in New Zealand's biggest city makes them all bear this greater burden.

One software company found a solution to these problems by moving to a pleasant part of Auckland's North Shore, to be close to its staff while avoiding the costly CBD, though it also chose to pay its staff more to keep them.

I have previously argued that with New Zeland's Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB), we don't need to be in expensive, compact cities.

The Wellington quakes have reinforced my belief, especially as CBDs with their high-rises do appear more vulnerable to damage and danger than areas with low-density development.

I am not saying that Wellington's IT sector should shift to Auckland; the City of Sails is built on extinct volcanoes, after all.

But the risk averse might find it better and safer in the country, where UFB is being installed, if they can take their staff with them.

Such refugees will not only enjoy cheaper living costs, but also coffee as good as any you will find on Wellington's Lambton Quay.

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