The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down and given New Zealand the opportunity to attract world-leading businesses to set up within its "safe haven" shores.

That's according to a column in global business paper the Financial Times that says rather than simply providing boltholes for unpopular billionaires, like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, the country should get entire businesses to pack up and move here.

It argued Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's aim to eliminate the virus provided a unique selling point.

"If New Zealand succeeds, then for the first time it will be a better place to do business than New York or London: the ultimate remote location for the age of remote working," column author Simon Kuper said.

Advertisement
'Relocate your business by coming to Queenstown as if the global nightmare never happened. Then see if you ever want to go home again.'
'Relocate your business by coming to Queenstown as if the global nightmare never happened. Then see if you ever want to go home again.'

Kuper said that while the world's leading business hubs were often densely-packed cosmopolitan cities filled with talent, culture and great restaurants that model was over for now.

"The new demand is for a safe haven from Covid-19. The ideal for many westerners would be an English-speaking democracy with a developed economy, lots of space and nice weather, though not so hot that it catches fire in summer."

He even had a prepared sales pitch New Zealand could employ on prospective tech or other entrepreneurial businesses.

"Here's the offer: fly over your team, spend two weeks in quarantine, don't even think of dodging our taxes, commit to staying at least a year, hire some local staff, set up in a little Eden with WiFi, and resume life with work meetings and schools and cafés as if the global nightmare never happened. Then see if you ever want to go home again."

Kiwi expats cooped up in flats abroad would likely jump at the chance to come back, Kuper said in his FT piece.

"But they're just the start of it. Foreign tech firms, research departments and marketing agencies could airlift their locked-down staff to a gorgeous tourist resort with good coffee such as Queenstown, now devoid of tourists."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

He also joked about New Zealand's laid back culture based on his own time in the country in August 1991.

Advertisement

"I swear the running order of the first TV news I watched was: 1. All Blacks rugby team 2. Something about sheep 3. Mikhail Gorbachev retakes the Kremlin as KGB coup collapses."

He said New Zealand both exported and imported its skilled workers with about one-in-eight university-educated Kiwis living abroad by 2015.

"The highest share of any English-speaking country."

New Zealand has long been known as a bolthole for global billionaires attracted by the scenery and prospect of building a bunker to hide away in during a global catastrophe.

But that has left a stale taste in the mouths of some Kiwis on the back of skyrocketing house prices in Queenstown and Auckland and billionaire Thiel controversially being awarded citizenship in 2011 after spending 12 days in the country.

The Government subsequently banned most foreign buyers from buying homes in New Zealand from 2018.

Rod Drury, founder of online accounting software Xero, made headlines for supporting Thiel's citizenship and recently championed the idea of opening the country back up as a billionaire bolthole.

He said opening land to foreign buyers during the pandemic when now more than ever they would be keen to come could give an immediate cash injection to builders and architects, especially in hard hit Queenstown.

His call came on the back of a proposal by investment banker Troy Bowker to grant New Zealand visas to 2000 foreign high-net worthers in exchange for investing at least $50 million here and creating jobs.

University of Otago lecturer in entrepreneurship and strategic management, Tadhg Ryan-Charleton, told Radio NZ the proposal had merits and disadvantages.

High net-worthers could bring cash in with them that would otherwise be unavailable for local start-ups and medium sized businesses, he said.

But it would only work if the investors cared for the local businesses and had a long-term investment strategy that meant the cash was available when it was needed.

Ardern, however, quickly ruled out selling citizenship for cash.

Kuper in his FT column argued it made more sense to open the country to businesses rather than just as a safe haven for billionaires to jet in and out of.