Oct 27, 2014

    S'pore to be a hub serving new growth areas: EDB

    THE shift of the world's economic centre of gravity to the East has been gathering pace and making tremendous impact on the way multinational companies do business.

    More firms across sectors, from pharmaceuticals and manufacturing to consumer goods and marketing, are moving core operations to the region and catering specifically to Asian markets.

    Singapore is ready to serve as a vital nerve centre for these firms - where ideas for new products and services are born, tested and eventually commercialised for sale in the region and around the world, said Leo Yip, chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

    Given Singapore's connectedness to the region and strong intellectual property protection, this approach offers "opportunities to become part of entirely new product and value chains that did not exist before", Mr Yip said in an interview with The Straits Times.

    An example of a company which has developed and commercialised products out of Singapore is consumer goods giant Nestle. The firm used results from its consumer insight activities here to develop Yang Shen Le, a concentrated herbal soup targeted at Asian working women.

    A number of companies in the medical technology field have also started developing commercialisation capabilities in Singapore, including French-headquartered Essilor and United States companies Hill-Rom and Becton Dickinson and Company.

    EDB also hopes to connect companies in different industries - for instance, chemical companies and food firms - to create new products. Mr Yip said: "Singapore is small, but we have a very diverse range of industries here that serve as a rich base for cross-industry innovation."

    For instance, Swiss robotics and automation multinational ABB's Regional Robotics Packaging Application Hub, which opened in July, is developing robotics for use in a wide variety of industries, including pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics, solar, and food and beverage.

    Singapore's strong manufacturing base stands the nation in good stead to benefit from innovations like ABB's, which belong to a field referred to as "advanced manufacturing" - another key global trend EDB is positioning the country to take advantage of, Mr Yip said.

    An advanced manufacturing hub located close to Nanyang Technological University is in the works, he added. The site will be a "manifestation of Singapore's advanced manufacturing capabilities", where companies, research institutes and corporate labs can test and develop new technologies for "factories of the future" across a wide range of industries.

    Many of these new technologies are less labour-intensive and require a smaller physical space - factors which work to Singapore's advantage, Mr Yip said.

    Even as Singapore moves to latch onto new growth areas, however, the availability of suitable technically skilled talent has been frequently raised as a key worry among MNCs here.

    Acknowledging these challenges, Mr Yip said EDB's approach has been to train workers in the necessary skills before firms move in. "Companies understand that Singapore's labour supply situation means they have to be proactive and plan ahead to make sure they have a supply of talent."

    EDB spends upwards of $70 million to train more than 2,500 Singaporeans every year in preparation for new opportunities the agency promotes, he said.

    "New fields like advanced manufacturing are very exciting because they involve creating entirely new products and ideas... We hope more young people will be inspired to join them."