An $18 million revamp of Scion's Rotorua campus could create "thousands of jobs" and increase export earnings by up to $1 billion, a major stakeholder says. Journalist Samantha Olley finds out what the revamp looks like and talks to the major players about what it means for the region.
The revamp of Scion, a Crown Research Institute, includes an exhibition area, public cafe, main reception, meeting rooms and staff and tenant working spaces linked to laboratories and testing facilities. The institute currently employs 295 staff in Rotorua.
Thirty contractors were currently working onsite to get its three-storey, wooden, "signature" building open next winter.
At the moment the Scion campus has 27 tenants including pest management company Wildland Consultants, the Department of Conservation, Peak Safety and Timberlands.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council is pumping $2.5m into the hub through its regional infrastructure fund.
The council's chief financial officer, Mat Taylor, said based on research by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, the new hub could help create "thousands of jobs" and increase export earnings by up to $1 billion.
"It will be a business and innovation cluster similar to, for example, the Ag-biotech hub at Waikato Innovation Park."
Taylor said the hub would be focused on high-tech businesses that were targeting new markets for forest and wood-derived products and services.
Scion chief executive Dr Julian Elder said the hub would showcase what could be made from sustainably-grown wood, both now and in the future.
He said the wider campus redevelopment programme would upgrade the ageing site and give Scion "fit-for-purpose facilities that reflect the world-class science we do here".
"New Zealand needs to get started on transitioning to a circular bioeconomy which offers significant opportunities ... through competitive advantages on a world stage. This hub can be the catalyst by bringing scientists, business, industry and government together."
Meanwhile, the Ministry for Primary Industries is also negotiating to have a developer build offices for the forestry service, Te Uru Rākau, at the Scion campus by the end of next year.
The exact design and size of the building was yet to be determined. The timing of the move would be "subject to negotiations and the receipt of relevant building consents", a spokeswoman said.
Rotorua Lakes Council's deputy mayor and economic portfolio lead Dave Donaldson said building the Te Uru Rākau offices in Rotorua recognised that the city was at the heart of New Zealand's forestry sector, which contributed $5 billion to the national economy each year.
Te Uru Rākau was also expected to play key roles in delivering sustainable jobs in the regions and in forestry workforce development and training, Donaldson said.
Locating Te Uru Rākau at the Scion campus "absolutely makes sense", Donaldson said, as being co-located with similar entities would bring "formal and informal interactions that are gold in the innovation space".
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce acting chief executive Bryce Heard said Te Uru Rākau's plans were good for business confidence.
"The forest industry will be appreciative to have a local voice to talk with rather than remote Wellington-based organisations with other priorities".
Heard said he was surprised there were not more wood-based projects happening in New Zealand, like the Innovation Hub and Te Uru Rākau office plan.
"Wood is taking longer than I feel it should, to gain back market share in NZ buildings.
"It seems that the wood industry needs to do a lot more to ensure the general public fully understand the environmental values inherent in its product."