20/08/2009 - 00:00

Point of difference puts WA on the map

20/08/2009 - 00:00

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WESTERN Australia may be an isolated state and its industry dominated by the resources sector, but that need not be a major issue for a technology firm entering the global marketplace.

Point of difference puts WA on the map

WESTERN Australia may be an isolated state and its industry dominated by the resources sector, but that need not be a major issue for a technology firm entering the global marketplace.

Conversely, according to company executives at the WA Business News forum, Perth's isolation and lifestyle could provide a competitive advantage.

Sensear chief executive Justin Miller dismissed any notions that Perth's reputation as a resources-oriented city meant setting up a technology firm in WA was unworkable.

"The bottom line is, unless you're digging something out of the ground here it's a very difficult place to start a business, but it's not impossible," Mr Miller said.

"If you're going to let where you are dictate your business, then don't start it. There are a lot bigger issues in front of any of our businesses than where we're located.

"I think you can make a business work wherever you really want it to work as long as you've got the right plan and people.

"You hear it quite a bit, you know, 'Perth's resources'. Yes it is, and it will always be, but you can do other things and there's a lot of ways that we can do that."

Orbital chief executive Terry Stinson said the lure of WA as an exotically far-flung locale was a handy tool used to recruit valuable international workers.

"Western Australia itself holds a lot of romance, a feeling of adventure, and we get inundated with requests for people to come and work with us," Mr Stinson told the forum.

"I think the location itself, properly marketed, at least in our industry, is really good. We've got $40 million worth of invested capital and research here, it's not too easy to move, and the people, who really make a difference, you can't just move them.

"I think location is not as important."

Perth's comparatively relaxed lifestyle provided a major drawcard for potential international employees, according to Ipernica chief executive Graham Griffiths.

"There's definitely a pool of international talent. We source internationally, both from people returning to Perth, and there's always a lot of those, and separately, people who are wanting the lifestyle and those sort of things," Mr Griffiths said.

"It's an attractive proposition. We advertise through various mechanisms and we always get heaps of people from Europe and the US applying."

CustomVis chief executive Paul van Saarloos said firms should be wary that the state might not live up to the hype.

"We've marketed WA as a place to live, but sometimes the reality doesn't live up to the expectation and they will only stay six months or two years," Dr Van Saarloos said.

"Having said that, I wouldn't knock it, because these people have brought in skills and knowledge and they have spread it around the office, which has made it very worthwhile."

During the past two years, the resources boom in WA had made finding good people difficult, Dr van Saarloos said.

"Finding the right people has been one of our biggest problems, particularly in recent times in the last few years," he said.

"It really was an impossible time to do business in WA."

Mobilarm chief executive Lindsay Lyon added: "I would interview someone, even an office type person, and you'd go to do a second interview and they were gone.

"It was amazing, so you started hiring people you probably wouldn't normally hire."

Mr Miller said the boom created opportunities for technology firms to swoop on skilled workers drawn by the resources rush.

"It does work the other way as well, for us. An Irish couple, he had a job in oil and gas, moved here and she followed and now she's our production manager, who worked for Intel and Hewlett Packard," he said.

"Just that level of detail and the level of process they've brought into our business, they immigrated here based on the resources sector, but we got the added benefit.

"There is a flipside to it as well."

Mr Lyon said these types of workers brought intangible benefits to start-up technology firms.

"If you bring in an experienced R&D manager, who's worked with NEC, Siemens and Hewlett-Packard, they bring all that process and methodology that that company's built up over 75 years into your little start-up company," he said.

"That's what we want because it removes risk, and saves cash and time on project development."

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