Tech work­ers take free trips, get new jobs in New Zealand

Coun­try’s cap­i­tal city seeks to boost grow­ing tech hub.

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS -

It sounds al­most too good to be true: A free trip to New Zealand to in­ter­view for a job in the tech sec­tor.

But that’s what lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and busi­nesses in the cap­i­tal, Welling­ton, are of­fer­ing to 100 tal­ented work­ers from around the globe as they seek to boost the city’s grow­ing tech hub. The idea has caught fire, with 12,000 peo­ple com­plet­ing ap­pli­ca­tions so far and thou­sands more reg­is­ter­ing in­ter­est ahead of the March 20 dead­line.

Welling­ton Mayor Justin Lester said the city’s tech sec­tor has been grow­ing at an an­nual rate of 14 per­cent over the past five years.

“The prob­lem we need to solve is that we have a whole lot of busi­nesses that are strug­gling to keep up with re­cruit­ment,” he said.

The LookSee cam­paign was first pro­moted in tech hubs like San Fran­cisco, which is more than 6,000 miles from Welling­ton.

About one-third of the ap­pli­cants are from the U.S. but that mix is chang­ing as more peo­ple from other parts of the world find out about the of­fer, said David Jones, who is help­ing to over­see the cam­paign at the Welling­ton Re­gional Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Agency.

“This is the first time a city has ap­proached re­cruit­ment in this way,” Jones said. “We’ve been ab­so­lutely amazed at the level of in­ter­est.”

Suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants get free flights to New Zealand and free ac­com­mo­da­tion dur­ing their four-day stay in Welling­ton. They also get to see some of the sights and meet tech lead­ers. They are ex­pected to ap­ply for three jobs each but aren’t obliged to ac­cept any of­fers.

The $588,000 cost of the cam­paign is paid for by a com­bi­na­tion of tax­payer money and con­tri­bu­tions from lo­cal busi­nesses.

Nick Pi­esco, 40, moved to Welling­ton from another Amer­i­can tech hub, Austin, two weeks ago to take a job as a de­vel­oper at Xero, an on­line ac­count­ing soft­ware com­pany.

He said his wife, Re­neau Skinner, had loved Welling­ton when she vis­ited more than a decade ago for an eight-month work­ing hol­i­day and that they made the de­ci­sion to move to the city be­fore the LookSee of­fer.

He said peo­ple in New Zealand seemed to re­ally value hav­ing a life out­side of work and that he was mak­ing some life changes, in­clud­ing for­go­ing a car.

“I can walk to work, I can walk to the shops. I live be­tween two brew­eries, so I think I’m pretty well sit­u­ated,” he said. “The fact that you live in such a beau­ti­ful city in such a beau­ti­ful coun­try means that you are urged to get out­side and en­joy it.”

He said the tim­ing of his move soon after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was elected was “co­in­ci­den­tal but for­tu­itous.” sions that they were be­hind sched­ule be­fore fi­nally mov­ing in Novem­ber to par­tially ter­mi­nate its $31 mil­lion con­tract with Cobb, which had been tasked with han­dling me­chan­i­cal and plumb­ing sys­tems for the lux­ury high­rise.

The par­tial con­tract ter­mi­na­tion called for Cobb’s crews to stop work on the ho­tel’s podium — its first seven floors — and fo­cus in­stead on the up­per floors of the ho­tel tower.

Hunt says it was re­quired to se­cure a re­place­ment sub­con­trac­tor, “in­cur­ring sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional costs.”

“The sub­con­tract pro­vides that Hunt is not re­quired to sit by and wait while de­lays and dam­ages mount up,” the suit states.

So far, Hunt al­leges, Lib­erty Mu­tual has re­fused to re­im­burse Hunt via the per­for­mance bond the in­surer is­sued.

Hunt de­scribes the ho­tel as a “fast-track ori­ented project.” Con­struc­tion is se­quenced, so when one com­pany — such as Cobb — falls be­hind, other work is de­layed, as well, Hunt said.

In ad­di­tion to al­legedly not hav­ing enough work­ers on site, Hunt says some of Cobb’s work­ers were re­spon­si­ble for “qual­ity is­sues,” such as sup­pos­edly not re­seal­ing a tem­po­rary roof struc­ture be­fore a rain­storm, penalty, con­tend­ing that own­ers were en­ti­tled to resti­tu­tion through the crim­i­nal court. But the Jus­tice Depart­ment and VW ar­gued that the com­pany agreed to pay $11 bil­lion in resti­tu­tion to own­ers through a civil law­suit, and that was suf­fi­cient. That was part of a $15 bil­lion civil set­tle­ment with U.S. en­vi­ron­men­tal which led to “sig­nif­i­cant” dam­age.

The suit ac­cuses Cobb and Lib­erty Mu­tual both of breach of con­tract and seeks more than $27 mil­lion in dam­ages, plus court costs and at­tor­neys’ fees.

A trial date has not been set.

Last month, the fed­eral Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­volv­ing the Fair­mont project after a metal bracket fell from an ex­ter­nal con­struc­tion el­e­va­tor at the site at East Ce­sar Chavez and Red River streets, where the $370 mil­lion project is un­der­way.

Asked last week about any up­date in the probe, Juan Ro­driguez, deputy re­gional di­rec­tor in the Of­fice of Public Af­fairs for OSHA, said there was noth­ing new to re­port.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is open and on­go­ing,” Ro­driguez said in an email.

In a writ­ten state­ment about the in­ci­dent last month, Hunt said: “This morn­ing a small metal bracket on an ex­ter­nal hoist fell to the ground. No one came in con­tact with the bracket and there were no in­juries. The mat­ter is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated, but there have been no prior safety is­sues with the hoist.” au­thor­i­ties and car own­ers ap­proved last year.

Although the cost is stag­ger­ing and would bank­rupt many com­pa­nies, VW has the money, with $33 bil­lion in cash on hand.

Un­der its agree­ment, VW must co­op­er­ate in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and let an in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor over­see com­pli­ance for three years.

Sep­a­rately, seven Volk­swa­gen em­ploy­ees have been charged in the scan­dal.

Booker preaches ‘coura­geous em­pa­thy’

If po­lit­i­cal junkies were look­ing for fight­ing words and calls to arms from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, they in­stead got the oral equiv­a­lent of a big, firm hug.

In a South by South­west In­ter­ac­tive open­ing pre­sen­ta­tion that fol­lowed the con­fer­ence in­tro­duc­tion from For­rest, Booker said that the Trump pres­i­den­tial era has ush­ered in some of the tough­est times of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

But he stressed that love, “coura­geous em­pa­thy” and un­der­stand­ing is more im­por­tant than mere tol­er­ance — “I tol­er­ate a cold,” he joked — in a talk that was built for in­spi­ra­tion in di­vi­sive times.

For about 20 min­utes, Booker ad­dressed SXSW at­ten­dees on his feet be­fore a sit-down in­ter­view with Google se­nior coun­sel on civil and hu­man rights Ma­lika Saada Saar.

As a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a ma­jor tech com­pany, she asked about the role of so­cial me­dia on coars­en­ing (or per­haps en­abling pos­i­tively) the culture and pushed back slightly on the idea of “lov­ing re­sis­tance” in the face of ugly pol­i­tics.

The ses­sion ad­dressed im­mi­gra­tion, racial bias and the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, me­dia con­sump­tion (he said watches Fox News to learn about those he dis­agrees with) and whether he has plans to run for pres­i­dent.

“I don’t know what the fu­ture holds. But at this time in Amer­i­can his­tory I want to be a fear­less truthteller,” Booker said, when asked about the pos­si­bil­ity of a White House run.

The talk could help set the tone for a SXSW year that fig­ures to be heavy on pol­i­tics, in­clud­ing a Sun­day pre­sen­ta­tion fea­tur­ing for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

GENSLER

An artist’s ren­der­ing of the 37-story Fair­mont Austin, cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion. Of­fi­cials be­hind the project say the ho­tel, which will be Austin’s largest, will open Aug. 9 de­spite the gen­eral con­trac­tor’s le­gal ac­tion against Cobb Me­chan­i­cal Con­trac­tors, which it ac­cuses of hav­ing too few peo­ple on the job and sub­par work.

NICK PERRY / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Nick Pi­esco, 40, pos­ing for a photo in Welling­ton, New Zealand, moved to the city from another tech hub, Austin, to take a job as a de­vel­oper at Xero, an on­line ac­count­ing soft­ware com­pany.

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