'Business-friendly NZ' attracts semiconductor entrepreneur

American Randy Crockett is going to set up facilities to build small-scale industrial furnaces used to create semiconductors. Photo / Supplied
American Randy Crockett is going to set up facilities to build small-scale industrial furnaces used to create semiconductors. Photo / Supplied

Dyed-in-the-wool Republican Party supporter and semiconductor industry entrepreneur Randy Crockett looks a little out of place in Wellington's Pravda restaurant, with its Lenin bust and Soviet era propaganda adorning the walls.

That makes it even more out of place to hear him explain he's planning to move a chunk of his American business - manufacturing machinery vital to the production of semiconductors - to New Zealand because it's "less socialistic" than Australia.

Frustrated by what he says is becoming an intolerable burden of regulation in the US, where facilities in Arizona and Florida are generating between US$7 million ($8.3 million) and US$10 million of sales annually, Crockett wants out.

He wants to create what he says would be a first for New Zealand in manufacturing for the semiconductor industry.

The biggest problem in the US, he says, is the Customs Service. As the manufacturer of machines that could include industrial secrets of interest to foreign defence forces, he's watched impotently while export orders have been lost, thanks to border delays.

"I've lost a couple of major deals not because I couldn't export, but because the Government took too long to approve the export," he says. "In one case, I got approval to ship the day after I lost the order. The sale went to a Japanese company."

He reckons, by comparison, that New Zealand has a "business-friendly climate", is as close to Asian markets as his US facilities for shipping large-scale machinery and is blessed with world-class engineers who struggle to find work in the country.

After three scouting trips to New Zealand he's decided he'd like to do his bit to change that.

Crockett's plan was to shift his whole Trion Technology operation to New Zealand. But he decided that would be "too disruptive" and he will instead establish facilities to build a new line of small-scale industrial furnaces which are vital in the expensive, and valuable process of creating perfect semiconductors.

Trion's niche is in smaller, often laboratory-scale devices, which sell for a fraction of the US$6 million apiece for industrial-sized applications, suitable for research facilities and second-tier manufacturers. So Crockett has registered Trion Thermal Technologies in New Zealand. There's just one problem - where to locate?

Wellington's "Technology Valley" grouping in Lower Hutt is pushing hard for him to locate in the capital with links to the MacDiarmid Institute at Victoria University.

But he's also being courted by Auckland interests who insist that's where the economies of scale are for manufacturing, as well as strong academic and research support.

"It's a problem," says Crockett. "Everyone's after me. It's like being lured by two beautiful women at once."

The venture will require only minor capital expenditure, and he may seek around $7 million from local investors, but says Trion could absorb start-up costs within a couple of years. At first, he'd be looking for a small team of skilled engineers, with manufacturing occurring in existing machining facilities.

- BusinessDesk

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