Push for Hawke's Bay call centres

By PATRICK O'SULLIVAN - BUSINESS EDITOR

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Businessman Rod Drury is facilitating a new regional economic initiative - call centres for Hawke's Bay.

The founder and chief executive of internet-based accounting software company Xero meets with Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule, Nelson mayor Aldo Miccio and telecommunications experts next month in Hastings.

They plan to develop a package deal to persuade large Australian firms to set up call centres in New Zealand provincial centres such as Hawke's Bay.

Regional centres in New Zealand already had a price advantage, which would increase further as Australian employers are forced to increase employee superannuation payments, Mr Drury said.

"But they are not going to just come here and open call centres - high-value contact centres. If you bundle the services together and make an offering, then that seems like a pretty low-cost opportunity to attract new jobs."

He said uptake for the initiative was good.

"We have had a number of national IT suppliers make contact, the mayors are pretty engaged and we are absolutely having a go.

"A bit of work that is kicking off is that the regional development authorities are looking at demographics - looking at what kind of people supply there is - and I think we will actually attract people to the region if we can pull it off.

"The IT people will do a bit of work on what the infrastructure will look like."

Mr Yule said the idea was sparked after lunch the two mayors had with Mr Drury.

"We have had a lot of feedback so far from telcos and other people interested and now we are going to follow it up.

"At the moment it is generally somebody saying [in a city], we can house 400 people in this building. We are saying maybe if you put 50 or 100 people in each place and link them up with smart technology you can compete.

"We are just starting small with some key players, Rod being one of them and potentially Gen-i another, and the context is actually about creating employment in provincial parts of New Zealand because most of these call centres are going into Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

"There are all sorts of issues in those parts in terms of costs and in Wellington in terms of costs."

The Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce has welcomed the initiative.

Chamber president Katja Williams said there was no doubt that Hawke's Bay could provide the ideal environment for call centres which would in turn create more prospects for support businesses.

"We would see another employment offering for the region which would encourage a broader pool of skilled employees - it's a win-win," Ms Williams said.

Chairman of economic development agency Business Hawke's Bay Stuart Mclauchlan said the organisation supported the move and would be ready to give any assistance.

"The chance to broaden the economic base for our region and make us less reliant on our traditional income streams can only be perceived as a positive step," he said.

Mr Drury said there was a need for a national strategy for "pulling jobs to the regions".

"If we want New Zealand to be better, the jobs need to be distributed around the country. It is great to see the mayors taking some leadership and promoting new jobs."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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