Pleased and proud of Gigatown progress

Chorus strategic partnership manager Kim Stewart has enjoyed her involvement with Dunedin...
Chorus strategic partnership manager Kim Stewart has enjoyed her involvement with Dunedin businesses and community groups. Photo: Peter McIntosh
A three-year involvement with Dunedin through the city’s Gigatown win has been "way more than a job" for Kim Stewart.

While that involvement was officially drawing to the end for Chorus’ strategic partnership manager, relationships she had built in the city were "not going to go away".

Mrs Stewart remained passionate about Dunedin and passionate about the businesses in the city, she said.

In December 2014, Dunedin won the competition that made it the first in New Zealand to get one gigabit per second broadband services.

The win came after a massive online push from residents and supporters that lifted the city to the top of the competition.

As part of the win, the telecommunications infrastructure company accelerated the rollout of fibre broadband and provided $700,000 of funding: $500,000 for community groups and $200,000 for businesses.

Mrs Stewart first got involved with Gigatown when it was a competition. She organised the trip for the finalist towns to go to Chattanooga, in Tennessee, which was "amazing".

"I rang my business mentor and said, ‘we’re in trouble, I can’t go back to my old job’," she recalled.

Returning home, she wrote a new job description to, basically, put the prize package in place for whoever won the competition.

Over the past three years she had done that for Dunedin and also looked after the finalist towns, as she did not want to abandon them.

For Dunedin, it had been "so much more" than the components of the prize package, including the marketing and relationships that had been brought into Dunedin, which had been "amazing" for some businesses.

Fostering those relationships and seeing businesses and communities thriving had been "just so exciting", she said.

She cited the likes of Dunedin tech company Tussock Innovation, which had capitalised on the Gigatown win and become connected with Nokia’s IoT (Internet of Things) community, which had opened doors for it.

For companies like Bison Group, which developed what was believed to be a world-first portable container-weighing scale, it had helped to speed up their global offering, Mrs Stewart said.

More than 50 community groups had applied for funding and 21 had received funding to date. The final round of $44,000 would be given out in February.

"My philosophy was I didn’t want to just give the money and run away. It wasn’t just about grants but fostering these businesses and connecting people ... being able to broker some of these relationships," she said.

Mrs Stewart was a regular visitor to Dunedin over the three years and she estimated she had  made "30-ish" visits,  spending an average of two or three days each time.

"It’s going to be quite different not flying [down] every month and seeing everybody."

She had brought the Chorus board to the city, the first time it had met outside Auckland or Wellington, and taken board members through various businesses. Chorus chief executive Kate McKenzie was coming  in February. It was now almost like passing the mantle to Dunedin "to take it and run it from here". There was still a huge opportunity  to leverage from the competition and take it to the next level.

It had been "a bit of a case study" for the rest of New Zealand and almost the rest of the  world and, overall, she was pleased and very proud of what had been achieved. It had been a learning curve, she said.

Paula Hellyer, from Glow Consulting, said Mrs Stewart had been a "staunch advocate" for the city.

"The level of passion and drive ... she brought to this project, you wouldn’t see from most people," she said.

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