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Christchurch 'better base' for R&D than Silicon Valley

By Aimee McClinchy

Friday 23rd June 2000

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Global software company Trimble Navigation is to base more of its research and development in Christchurch in reaction to rising costs in Silicon Valley.

Trimble Navigation New Zealand's managing director, Alan Townsend, told a Future Sectors conference this week his $US1.1 billion parent company was looking to base more of its R&D at the Christchurch arm and in a new facility in Colorado.

Product development, staff and property costs were half those in Silicon Valley and there was a "comparatively easier employee environment" with higher staff retention rates, he said.

The local arm, bought by Trimble in 1991, is already its key research arm in global positioning systems (GPS). It built an automated satellite- guided system for bulldozers in a joint venture with Caterpillar. Trimble has aligned with US wireless company Brience and bought Spectra Precision, a surveying, construction and agricultural laser company.

This purchase would double Trimble's worldwide staff, meaning more work for the Christchurch staff integrating GPS with lasers, and would open up opportunities for locals to be transferred overseas. Trimble was an example of the opportunities for the country in exporting our R&D, Mr Townsend said.

"We need to promote New Zealand's advantages; Trimble [the parent] is moving where the people are."

This week's Auckland-based Future Sectors conference was organised by both the Ministry and Foundation for Research, Science & Technology and the Manufacturers Federation to identify industry sectors for the country's growth.

Genesis managing director Jim Watson and Research, Science & Technology Minister Pete Hodgson identified primary production fields and biotechnology, especially marine biotechnology and the mapping of the human genome, as key areas.

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