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Story: Knowledge-based industries

New Zealand is isolated from world markets, and ‘weightless’ exports like computer games or drug patents are a key to economic success. Creative, biotechnological and internet technology industries are growing quickly, and some have had striking international successes, including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the rings blockbusters and fashion icon Karen Walker’s designs.

Story by Mark Derby
Main image: Professor Ian Graham, Endace

Story Summary

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With knowledge-based industries New Zealand can compete strongly in overseas markets. The country is isolated from the rest of the world, so high-value products – like films or computer software – that can be easily delivered to large foreign markets via the internet are a key to economic success. Because New Zealand has a small population, industries are often held back by a lack of money – they rely on costly research and development for their success.

Creative industries

The three creative industries that have made the biggest impact overseas are film, television and fashion.

Film director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the rings trilogy became a Hollywood blockbuster. He filmed in New Zealand and also made all the special effects in his studios in Wellington. Not many television programmes have been sold overseas; Shortland Street is one that has. Probably the best-known fashion designer is Karen Walker, whose product range sells in more than 1,000 stores around the world, including London and New York.

Digital industries

As well as Peter Jackson’s successful Weta Workshop, there are digital design companies making Playstation games, interactive websites and digital educational resources for overseas markets.

Biotechnology

Biotechnology uses science and technology with plants and animals and other living organisms to make products like medicines. Because New Zealand has a lot of unique plants and organisms, it is a good place for people to develop new medicines or other products.

New Zealand farming researchers have been world leaders in biotechnological research on stock like cattle and sheep. Now scientists use information about animals to make new medicines for humans.

Pigs left to fend for themselves on the subantarctic Auckland Islands have cells that could be developed into treatment for diabetes in humans. Researching wild species like this is known as bioprospecting.

Physiome Project

New Zealand is part of the worldwide Physiome Project. Scientists can model the human body on computer. Auckland University worked with Oxford University to make a computer model of the heart, used to study heart diseases and treatments.

Information technologies

IT companies earned $6.2 billion in 2007. However New Zealand has not kept up with leading countries in providing broadband internet access. This has slowed the development of IT industries.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Knowledge-based industries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/knowledge-based-industries (accessed 30 March 2017)

Story by Mark Derby, published 11 Mar 2010, reviewed & revised 5 Dec 2017