Tech experts in Whanganui say it’s a sector that’s open to anyone with good ideas.
Whanganui resident Hayden Steedman said there were fewer barriers for newcomers to enter the tech space than there had been in the past.
WildEye, Steedman’s virtual reality and game development company, creates educational virtual reality content that teaches students about Māori mythology and New Zealand history.
“Technology has become much more efficient and reasonably priced,” he said.
“Five or 10 years ago, you’d have to go to somewhere like Wētā Workshop and hire out a motion capture suite and hardware valued at $200,000.
“The stuff I do now - 10 years ago, it would have taken a team of 29. Now I can do it with five people. There’s so much software now that is free and open source.”
Whanganui Mayor Andrew Tripe said it was important for the district to be trailblazing in the tech industry.
“We are disproportionately light on middle-aged, highly skilled workers compared to the rest of New Zealand.
“I want to position Whanganui to bring in the 20 to 60-year-old age group to do interesting, cutting-edge work, and there’s a whole tech industry there just awaiting us.”
According to economic consultancy Infometrics, low-skilled jobs accounted for 36 per cent of total employment in Whanganui last year - slightly higher than the national average.
For 2022, mean annual earnings in the district were $57,896 - around $12,000 lower than the national average.
Steedman studied a Bachelor of Creative Technologies at WelTec and worked at animation studios in Wellington.
He has contributed to film projects such as Marvel’s The Avengers, Spiderman and Thunderbirds Are Go.
“I always had this dream to make video games and work in this space, but I always thought you couldn’t do it in Whanganui or New Zealand.
“I started doing cabinet-making and joinery which evolved into design work, and eventually 3D animation and then game development.”
He operates out of collaborative creative space The Backhouse.
Backhouse chief executive Rodd Eddy said there was a strong focus on making Whanganui more competitive and attractive in the tech industry.
“It’s about attracting that younger generation, creating a pathway for them into the tech space and making sure we’ve got the right programmes and tertiary organisations.
“Whanganui, as a regional centre, has a real opportunity to advance itself to be the technology hub for New Zealand.”
Eddy said events such as GovHack - an open-source hackathon - and the establishment of a Whanganui tech network were helping to connect members of the tech community.
Wellington’s Dev Academy will soon launch its four-month course in web development in Whanganui.
An information session on the programme will be held at The Backhouse on July 26 from 6pm to 8pm.
Whanganui and Partners strategic lead Rach Hoskin said there had been a growth of 11 per cent in the professional, scientific and technical services sector last year in the district.
“This sector accounted for 5.2 per cent of our GDP (gross domestic product) in 2022 and accounted for 4.7 per cent of filled jobs,” she said.
Steedman’s project The Navigators was shown at the Carter Observatory in Wellington and tells the story of the navigation techniques used by Māori, European and Pacific ocean voyagers to arrive in Aotearoa.
“That was a 360-dome experience and it was very challenging to create. It’s hard to tell a story with [the] ocean, characters on boats and movement in that specific format.
“In general, I think virtual reality can do so much more than film - you can go into more personal situations because it immerses you, and it allows game developers to push emotions.”
He said he thought virtual reality would make people more imaginative because of its “endless possibilities”.
“It’s a dream job but it’s very hard, it’s not for everyone, and you’ve got to put the work in and everything takes a long time.
“I believe that there’s a lot of kids around that would have the skills to do it, but they need guidance. Anyone can do it if you’ve got a good idea.”
For more information on WildEye, visit www.wildeyenz.com.
Eva de Jong is a reporter for the Whanganui Chronicle covering health stories and general news. She began as a reporter in 2023.