Posts tagged ‘technopole’


Getting Wellington out of debt—by growing the right businesses

01.07.2010

Back Jack Yan for Mayor In plain English, when a city is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt—depending on who you believe, the figure is between $200 million and $400 million—how do you get out of the hole?
   1. You can sell the family jewels, and there’s water left. We tried this in the 1980s, and now so many foreigners own New Zealand companies that the profits go offshore and we lose a source of tax revenue. Not good, doesn’t work.
   2. You can put up the rates for residents to the tune of 5·58 per cent and hope they cover some of this. (The figure was 5·5, then 5·75—so much for transparency.)
   3. You can keep praying that the Rugby World Cup will give a temporary boost and hope no one notices that the other years aren’t as prosperous.
   4. You can look at what the city has in terms of creativity and intellectual capital, and build on that, especially if the world values the innovative thinking of New Zealanders.
   Of the four, I prefer (4). This present mayor and council favour (2) and locked in that rise for us a wee while ago.
   I know in some circles my name has become associated with the free wifi for the central city promise, but it goes a bit deeper than that.
   Free wifi is like having roads in a city in the 21st century, and right now, what we have is like paying tolls on every single road we drive on.
   Compare this to Finland, who enshrined in law the right to broadband, which became effective yesterday (July 1). This means every citizen in Finland has a legal right to having broadband at a minimum speed of 1 Mbit/sec. With netbooks and cloud computing on the rise, this seems to be the logical thing to do. The old ways of having programs on your computer are disappearing.
   Get the infrastructure right—after all, Singapore and numerous US cities have done it, and Wellington has to play catch-up with Dunedin and Whanganui—and we can get other things right.
   The sectors that have the greatest potential in the 2010s, and in my mind are the biggest earners for New Zealand companies, are the tech and creative sectors. Both rely on the ’net and a more visionary direction for Wellington in a huge way.
   Clustering, mentoring and financing are the things we need to do, and they have to be driven from the top. Some are done through lobbying by a business-minded, pro-Kiwi mayor and council (rather than a pro-foreigner one). Others can be driven through council itself. But we need a shake-up in order to do this.
   They are all possible solutions, and some are happening now at an ad hoc level.
   I’d want to help those companies that are Kiwi-owned or will remain majority Kiwi-owned—this helps with job creation, with the city’s rates and with the country’s tax take. And if Wellington becomes a centre for this activity in the 2010s and demonstrates that we are an advanced economy, who knows what else we can inspire around the nation?
   It’s not an overnight solution. But I know we have businesses out there that can generate millions for the New Zealand economy. Thanks to our social consciousness, many are sustainable. We already have examples in businesses I’ve cited many times before: the Sidhes, Wetas, Silverstripes, Catalysts of this world are creating jobs for Wellington. We just need to expand on that and stimulate innovation.
   Equally important are the need for transparency and changing the culture within the Wellington City Council, topics for other posts.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 5 Comments »


It’s time to consider open source

14.06.2010

Certain media are reporting the city’s [debt] in the $200 million–$300 million mark but our outside-council research reveals this is a very conservative estimate. It’s likely to be more.
   Regardless of whether it’s $200 million or half an (American) billion (scary just saying it), any deficit that’s nine digits long can’t be good for a relatively small city.
   One of my plans after I get into office will be to balance the budget, which is why I have been going on about growing jobs and businesses in such a big way. In a very shortcut way of explaining it: more new businesses, more ratepayers, fewer reasons to increase the rates. Which, I might add, this current administration has already locked in for us over the next few years, letting the next mayor get the blame.
   I object to any cuts in library services, even if there is a strong denial that that is happening. In a knowledge economy, we cannot afford to create a class system of the knowledge-rich and the knowledge-poor.
   On this note, recently I asked Don Christie of the New Zealand Open Source Society to examine an open-source strategy for Wellington City. For starters, we discussed how the library software is a proprietary system that costs this city a considerable amount—when there is a New Zealand-developed open-source program that many other cities have implemented.
   While it would be nice to keep believing we can afford expensive software to run city services, I don’t like debt, and I certainly don’t like owing people any money.
   And I’m not prepared to sell off our water to technocrats or any profitable part of the family jewels to see the hundred-million figure reduced.
   There are good examples of open source working for cities and creating significant savings. Zaragoza, Spain, has been moving to a complete open-source desktop. And it’s not the only one.
   Furthermore, open source will mean jobs in Wellington. This will mean new jobs. I have already gone on about the tech clusters being a vital part of this city’s economy. Open-source skills are in high demand, and if overseas trends are anything to go by, we can attract these skilled people to our city. Already Wellington is a centre of excellence in many IT-related fields. I’m talking about extending this and making a real claim to open-source. Let the world know that Wellington is the home of not just the most advanced software and visual effects’ companies, but logically extend that to open source as well.
   It’s projected that by 2020, 40 per cent of jobs in IT will be open-source-related, so if we don’t do it, another New Zealand city will. I’m not about to give up one of our most important advantages, one which has been emerging in the capital since the 1990s.
   Such moves can be done with the city and Wellington’s private enterprises working together—but this will need to come from the top, and be put in motion by a mayor who’s passionate about job creation. It’s one of the biggest challenges we face, and I seem to be a lone voice on focusing on this for our city.

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 9 Comments »


Chatting to TV, radio and internet journalists for the mayoral campaign

11.06.2010

There have been a few times in the history of this blog where I stepped away from writing regularly. At the end of 2006, I had a pretty good excuse: I was in France. This time, my reasons for stepping away for a few weeks do not include: (a) I was spending too much time with the Miss Universe New Zealand contestants; (b) laziness; (c) being trapped in 1983 and discovering that DCI Gene Hunt controls the Lost island.
   I was, however, chatting to a few more of the parties that we needed to realize some of my election promises. And doing a few media interviews. And looking at more ways Wellington could get nearer balancing its budget, as our deficit has ballooned over the last decade.
   On May 15, I joined my opponent, Councillor Celia Wade-Brown, on Access Radio’s Espace Français, in what was my first political interview in French. I expected a nice-natured chat till our hosts said they wanted a political debate. So the Councillor and I gave the audience one, coming from very different angles. I believe we are the only two Francophone candidates. And I don’t think Access does a Cantonese programme.
   You can listen to the interview here, though they only store the programmes for six weeks. You can also download from this link.
   I kept Leauna Zheng waiting for weeks while I prepared my emailed responses to her interview for Skykiwi, the leading Chinese expats’ site in New Zealand. Despite her wait, she wrote a marvellous article (in Chinese, here), and for those of you relying on Google Translate, please note that the term Chinese expatriate is not translated correctly. (I believe this is the first Chinese-language interview to include my name in Chinese ideographs.)
   And, finally, my interview with Bharat Jamnadas on Asia Down Under aired last Sunday. He’s very kindly put it on YouTube, though the aspect ratio is a tad off and I look thinner than usual. There are very nice comments from two members of the Wellington business community, Laurie Foon of Starfish and Brent Wong of Soi, to whom I am extremely grateful.

   The conversation at the end about Wellington v. Auckland was a good laugh, but there were some serious bits.
   And this Tuesday just gone, it was a pleasure to play a “dragon” in a Dragon’s Den-style setting analysing some of New Zealand’s entrepreneurs for New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.
   My thanks to Bharat, Leauna, Kenneth Leong, Laura Daly at Access Radio, Jean-Louis Durand and Arlette Bilounga, and Maria Gray and David Powell.

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Posted in business, China, culture, humour, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, TV, Wellington | 1 Comment »