Erin Wansbrough
Erin Wansbrough

A new initiative has been launched to attract five hundred skilled workers and their families to the Waikato to grow the region’s tech sector.

The New Zealand tech sector is the second largest contributor to the national economy.

The Tech in the Tron initiative is the first to arise from The Cultivate Trust, a collective of private businesses, education providers, and public entities who are enthusiastic about growing the Waikato technology ecosystem. The trust has absorbed the work of a former entity, Cultivate IT, and broadened its scope.

“Our goal is to relocate 500 skilled workers to technology companies in the Waikato,” said Cultivate Trust Chair and Soda Chief Executive Erin Wansbrough. “Not just in the core competencies but also talent necessary to support roles like communications, human relations, and marketing, wherever the jobs are. In addition, we want to promote diversity into the industry across ages, ethnicity, and gender, because we learn from viewpoints, discussion is richer and decision making better, and therefore organisations stronger.

“We can see from the economic data that the Waikato has a strong economy,” Wansbrough said. “The fact it is the strongest performing economy of any region in New Zealand, hands down. As the fourth largest city in New Zealand, this critical mass and strong economic base holds the key for New Zealand to regain a strong and diverse economy, despite the global economic headwinds. The challenge is how we fuel this growth. A challenge for not only the Waikato, but for New Zealand.

“In order for the companies of the Waikato to fuel this growth and compete we need wide-ranging talent from graduates to experienced people to relocate here from New Zealand and overseas. The companies of the Waikato region are demonstrating not only strong growth, but bold global ambition, and just get on with it. Like many New Zealanders they tend to hide their light under a bushel, are not really ones to shout about what they do. They get stuff done. We just want to make them visible to the wider world.”

Among those involved in the campaign are Aware Group, Company-X, Enlighten Designs, Gallagher Group, Hamilton City Council, IT Partners, Lightwire, Soda Inc, Shift72 and The Instillery.

Hamilton City Council Growth Group Economic Development Manager Mike Bennett is a Cultivate Trust trustee.

“The Cultivate Trust is a collective of Waikato-based businesses, education providers and public entities focussed on growing tech and innovation in the region,” Bennett, himself a migrant, said. Bennett emigrated to New Zealand from Chicago, USA, in 2018, to do his master’s degree at the University of Waikato, before joining Hamilton City Council in 2019.

“Tech and innovation have been a rapidly growing part of Hamilton’s economy for many years, and it was time to showcase the unique ecosystem that supports it all. The Cultivate Trust felt the best way to do that was to tell authentic stories and shine a light directly on the people, businesses, and places that all contribute to making the Waikato a great place for tech - and so Tech in the Tron was created.

“Tech in the Tron shouldn’t be thought of as a branding or marketing campaign. It’s a comprehensive effort that celebrates the successes of our tech whānau and businesses to connect tech talent to their peers and to new job opportunities. The goal is simple and clear: grow the number of people and businesses involved in tech in the Waikato.

“For those who might be surprised to learn about Hamilton’s tech sector, we say come on over and have a look. Talk to industry leaders and meet the people and businesses who have been doing cool things for a decade or more.

“You’ll learn why those who have come here for tech careers have stayed and flourished, and how those who are from here are embracing opportunities and leading the charge in an unmistakable and uniquely Waikato way.”

Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate and Hamilton City Council Economic Development Committee Chair Ryan Hamilton supported the establishment of the Cultivate Trust from the start. The programme of work the Cultivate Trust had created excited Cllr Hamilton.

“Something about this feels different. It feels like we’ve got all the stakeholders in the room, we’ve got something that’s sustainable, this is exciting. We want to lean in and support it. I don’t think people realise how strong tech is.”

Waikato regional development agency Te Waka chair Hamish Bell said the drumbeat of the Tech in the Tron campaign was people.

“It’s been great to partner with industry to help drive this initiative. There is a lot of innovation happening right across the Waikato – with some genuinely cool businesses and people choosing to call the region ‘home.’ By telling their story we hope to attract other like-minded people to come to the region.”

Te Waka chief executive Fiona Carrick said the Waikato region was a growing hub for the technology industry.

“We are proud that we’ve been able to support the industry on this great campaign to attract more talented people to our region.

“Our growing economy offers the ideal base for tech businesses to thrive, and we look forward to supporting people and businesses who want to explore business and investment opportunities in the Waikato tech sector.

“Technology is the greatest enabler of individual and economic success for the Waikato and greater New Zealand.”

“It’s phenomenally exciting to play a part in building our focus on a sector that is extremely strong,” Southgate said.

“The Waikato technology sector contributes enormously to New Zealand GDP. The Waikato technology sector flies under most people’s radars and the general public have no idea. I don’t see why Hamilton can’t be the New Zealand Silicon Valley. It’s nothing but a good news story.”