Chris Watson, an IT and modular homes expert, tells us about his motivations for settling in Auckland and some of the helpful contacts he found along the way.

Chris Watson, an IT and modular homes expert

ATEED: Can you give us a little background and what motivated you to relocate?

Chris: I started off as a programmer in my home state of California and then worked in a number of different countries. I created a computer software and services company. We do large-scale projects for the US government. With a very good management team in place, I can now be more flexible about where I base myself.

I also have a real estate company specialising in quality low-income housing, with several developments in the southern United States.

I have always enjoyed travelling and working outside the US, and so New Zealand has been on my radar for the last 10 or so years.

How did you become aware of Auckland or the opportunities in Auckland?

Knowing that Auckland existed was the easy part. Knowing about the opportunities in Auckland and how to access them would have been much harder but for ATEED. The group there has been extremely helpful. I would be much further back in developing my new company if not for their assistance. 

They have helped me develop a peer network and found information for me I would have had no idea where to find otherwise. And I was generally able to find the person or information I needed in a few days.

What first attracted you to investing in Auckland/New Zealand? 
Investing was originally a secondary concern. I loved the Kiwi lifestyle and find I resonate much more with the ‘be kind’ mindset than what’s currently going on in my native country. The investing followed shortly after, as I get bored quickly without a project or two. 

And then as I got more into New Zealand and its ethos, I had a desire to be a net positive for the country. I’d like to help build some affordable housing or in other ways do something that improves people’s lives a bit. It’s exciting that it’s possible to make a much larger impact in New Zealand due to it being far smaller than the US.

What other countries were on your shortlist? 

I considered Canada, Spain and Portugal. I like the international flair of Barcelona. Having travelled a lot, one of the things I look for is a diverse expat community. And Barcelona is like that, as is New Zealand. Spain has a lot of things going for it – it’s in the heart of Europe and easy to get to, and I speak some Spanish.

Eventually, I chose New Zealand because it is calm and kind. I have family in California and it only takes an 11-hour flight to reach my parents. And I thought I can come and contribute here with affordable housing. My home is in Auckland currently, but I like a lot of New Zealand, so I am trying to figure where to settle in the longer term.

With regards to the business, what type of external assistance did you seek to help you make your decision? 

I needed banking, tax, real estate, economic reports, transport and salary data. I used ATEED’s Investment team and Priority One in Tauranga. I also met with some people in Wellington and contacts I have in Christchurch.

ATEED helped me with economic information, industry contacts and introductions, help with government regulations. All of it has been extremely useful.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) were very, very helpful. So at a high level, Invest Auckland made some introductions for me, which got the whole ball rolling, and then almost all of the contact information came from MBIE. 

They had a list of people who could provide these services, including visa experts. That’s where I found a law firm who helped me with the visa applications and get set up with wealth management groups. I like to find a key person and get referrals to someone they know. This process works perfectly for me. 

What was the visa process like? 

I actually applied twice. The first time, the courier mislaid my package and I missed the deadline. However, Immigration New Zealand kindly reviewed my late package and gave me some pointers on what I had missed. The next time, I used Lane Neave, the New Zealand law firm, and they really helped me submit everything correctly. It made it a lot easier. 

The MBIE was extremely helpful in guiding me to the right people to talk to about my potential immigration to New Zealand. I hear people complain about various agencies in New Zealand, but as an outsider I can say the governmental bureaucracy here really is world-class and well run in comparison to most countries.

Have you got business plans for your future here in New Zealand?

Yes, plan A is my new company Greenfield Investments which is looking to provide affordable housing in New Zealand. I’d like to work with iwi and other groups to provide quality low-income housing. I’m still looking at plan B. I’d like to do something positive that makes money and draws on my skill set. 

What impact has COVID-19 had on your investment decisions and how is the pandemic going to shape your decisions to further invest going forward?

It’s slowed everything down. I’m reconsidering my housing procurement model. Previously, I was using prefabricated modular homes. But I’m considering doing more of the work inside New Zealand. Given the circumstances, creating jobs is an important consideration.

Now you have spent more time here, what are your impressions of work and life here?

Enjoyable and the people are kind. I really like working with and being around Kiwis. The US has sadly gotten quite toxic these days.

Auckland provides lots of things to do, with many interesting day trips possible from just about anywhere.

If travel was not restricted by the pandemic, what would be your ideal lifestyle split?

My plan is for New Zealand to be home. I used to travel a great deal for work and pleasure. In an ideal world I would be six months in New Zealand, three months in Europe, and two to three months in the States. 

New Zealand has a lot of charm and character and a lot of interesting cultural threads. You have all the different iwi and so many different people and cultures. For me, it’s fascinating.

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