Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Trade and Industry, at the Launch of the Sungei Kadut Masterplan Exhibition
- A very good morning to all of you. First, I must thank you all for being here because the fact that you are here has special meaning for all of us. I know that many of you are now very concerned about the novel coronavirus and this has occupied a lot of our attention over the last few days and weeks. We have taken significant steps to contain the spread and to minimise disruption to businesses so that our lives and livelihood can go on.
- But as the saying goes, no matter what the challenges are, life has to go on. So this is why I am so encouraged and heartened by your presence today. Today, this is a sign that we will continue to press on, not just to take care of the challenges that are confronting us now, but also to put in place the best for future generations of Singaporeans.
- Today, it is also a particularly happy day for me because I have been personally very keen on this project and I have been pushing JTC, URA and the various agencies to see how we can reimagine this piece of estate that we have. I am very familiar with all this area that has been greened out – these are all SAF training areas. This used to be part of my growing up years, if you like, and I have always asked myself whether we can do more with this piece of land because land is so precious in Singapore.
- So today, I am very proud of the work done by JTC, URA and the various agencies and I am very happy to see how it has worked out. But today is just the start. Today, we are here to unveil what we envisaged as the future of Sungei Kadut. But to make sense of the future, we really have to look back at where we came from, almost 50 to 60 years ago. At that point in time, when we first achieved independence, I think the future wasn’t that bright. In fact, many people were hard pressed to give Singapore a fighting chance. So today we have gone the other extreme. Today, many people expect Singapore to be perfect, and in fact, some people say that Singapore is the perfect economy facing many challenges now, as if now it is a doomsday scenario for us. It is never like that. Actually, in every generation, Singapore will face our challenges. We will also seize the opportunities, manage the challenges and imagine what we can get out from this entire exercise and how we can do better for future generations.
- Fifty years ago, there was a pressing need for jobs. In fact, the unemployment rate was 10 plus percent, quite unimaginable today. At that point in time, Doctor Goh Keng Swee had to find new sources of growth and to create jobs for the unemployed workers. Otherwise we would have a big social and political problem. So then-Finance Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee championed manufacturing as a key economic pillar for Singapore. This was a big gamble. Singapore was unknown to prospective investors and we did not have the right infrastructure to support manufacturing. In fact, many people would argue that we didn’t even have the right workers with the right skillsets. But this did not stop Dr Goh nor the pioneer generations from pressing on.
- To attract manufacturing investments, we worked at breakneck speed to reclaim industrial estates such as Jurong and Sugei Kadut out out of swampland to host these factories. Dr Goh's gamble was really huge at that point in time. In fact many people called it ‘Goh's folly’, a common story by now. But Goh's folly has paid off many times today. In 2018, manufacturing accounted for over 20 percent of Singapore’s economy. And we have made the commitment that we will always keep manufacturing at about 20 percent. In fact in recent times, some of my staff have even challenged me, asking why must it be only 20 percent? Why can’t we change the mind-set of the younger generation who don’t want to go into manufacturing?
- It all depends on what sort of manufacturing we are talking about in the future. If it is the dusty, old, dirty type of manufacturing, yes it might not be so attractive to our younger generation. But if it is the new high-tech manufacturing we are talking about, which involves design and creativity, there are a lot of opportunities for our young people. So we have never told ourselves that we cannot do even more than 20 percent if we have the gumption and imagination to reimagine manufacturing and reimagine what we can do with Sungei Kadut. So, while the global economy is changing quickly, we should not rest on our laurels and be satisfied with what we have. So we challenged the team to reimagine Sungei Kadut, and we want Sungei Kadut to be the pioneer once again in four dimensions. Let me explain each of them one at a time.
Sungei Kadut will pioneer rejuvenation of industries
- So, just as we did about 50 to 60 years ago, we want Sungei Kadut to once again be the pioneer of manufacturing for the future, and we will do so in the following ways. We will redevelop Sungei Kadut to support the transformation of existing industries, manyof which are already in Sungei Kadut. Today Sungei Kadut is home to the timber, Furniture, construction, and waste recycling industries. But they are dispersed, and not optimally laid out. JTC has launched specialised multi-user developments with shared facilities and services in Sungei Kadut to help these companies reduce business costs and improve productivity. For example, JTC worked with the Singapore Cranes Association to provide a shared open yard for the testing of heavy and tall machinery in TimMac for the companies. With these supporting functions provided, tenants can focus on improving their processes and products. Now, this is quite different from how we managed land in the past. In the past, we parcelled out land and each company had their own plot of land which cost them more, and they were unable to share the facilities and reap the benefits of economies of scale. So the next step for the existing industry, we want to decrease the cost by allowing them to have shared facilities and achieve economies of scale. So, this is one way for us to have Sungei Kadut pioneer the rejuvenation of existing industries.
Sungei Kadut will pioneer capturing new industries
- Second, we want Sungei Kadut to pioneer the growth of new industries, just like 50 to 60 years ago. So for a start, we will set aside 18 hectares of land for Phase 1 of the Agri-Food innovation Park (AFIP) to nurture the agri-tech sector, which is a USD $5 trillion global industry that is globally evolving. And we are nicely positioned in Asia. The food industry in Asia is not just growing in terms of size as the middle income class starts to grow in countries like India and China. It is also growing in terms of the demand for quality and safety, and this is where Singapore's trusted brand is so important for us. So the Agri Food Innovation Park will house best-in-class companies and R&D centres across the entire agri-tech value chain to encourage cooperation and capture synergies.
- But we will not do this alone. When it comes to R&D, we will link up with the science park further down south so that we have an upstream chain. Now we know for a fact in Singapore, it is quite difficult for us to have all the land that we need for this industry. But the production part is only part of the value chain, what Singapore can do and has a higher value add is actually the upstream part, the R&D part - how to select the genome, what are the methods we can pioneer to increase the yield and so forth.
- That is where our competitive advantage is. Once we have that part, once we pioneer this in Sungei Kadut, we will be able to partner other countries to scale up the production, and that will also lead to the resilience of our own food supply chains as well. So today we have some examples here. I just spoke to one of the companies here which is pioneering new technologies for the agri-tech industries. So we will have things like high tech production segments such as indoor farming, aquaculture hatcheries and alternative protein manufacturers. This will all bring in higher value-add jobs, knowledge-based jobs for the next generation of Singapore. It will include system engineers, plant scientists and aquaculture nutritionists - all these terms that we have never or seldom heard before, but all these are a new generation of jobs that can excite another generation to go into manufacturing once again.
- To ensure that Sungei Kadut remains ready to capture emerging opportunities, we have also reserved 200 hectares of land for new industries and uses. When JTC first came to talk to me, I told them not to plan anything for Sungei Kadut. This is a plan that will be executed over the next few decades. We must be able to have fresh land to seize opportunities. So that is why we have set aside some of these spaces to make sure that we are able to keep pace with the demands of the global industries.
Sungei Kadut will pioneer new work, live and play concepts
- Now the third thing we have challenged JTC and URA to do is this. If you look at the old Sungei Kadut, or rather the existing Sungei Kadut, you will notice something that is quite obvious. It is a place that has all kinds of factories, but very little space for other community activities. In fact in Sungei Kadut, it is such that after work hours, it is almost deserted. I know because I used to have a camp there. But this will change. So the third challenge we have posed to them is Sungei Kadut will pioneer new live, work and play concepts. That it will not be an isolated developer park but it will be closely integrated with the community and that there will be life in the industrial park for people to live, work and play.
- So as I said, today's Sungei Kadut has few amenities and community spaces for companies to engage amongst themselves and also with the rest of the wider communities like with residents in Choa Chu Kang, in Marsling and so on. So we will transform Sungei Kadut into a dynamic and vibrant home for companies and workers. In the day, Sungei Kadut will be a bustling hive of research, education and business activities with co-working spaces for cross pollination of ideas and collaboration. In the evenings and in the weekends, Sungei Kadut will become a place for residents and public to relax, with farmers markets, farm-to-fork restaurants serving produce from our Agri-Food Innovation Park and waterfront park trails.
- Sungei Kadut will also have a much larger green area. We will quadruple the green cover from 10 percent today to 40 percent by featuring more parks, green roofs and trees. This will mitigate the urban heat island effect and provide a more comfortable environment for workers and visitors.
- Sungei Kadut will also be much more connected. By the mid-2030s, the North-South and Downtown MRT lines will link Sungei Kadut to our national MRT network, bringing Sungei Kadut closer to workers, residents, and the public. And I have a very simple challenge for the team. Today we hear a lot of this, that factories and companies in Sungei Kadut said they cannot get young people to work in Sungei Kadut because it is too far and too boring. I always ask one simple question, will our children work in Sungei Kadut? And that is the challenge. If our children are prepared to work in Sungei Kadut, we have succeeded. We cannot expect other people's children to work in Sungei Kadut unless we recommend our children to work in Sungei Kadut. So this is the third challenge for the third pioneering activity, that Sungei Kadut will be so interesting, so exciting that we will recommend our own children to work there.
Sungei Kadut will pioneer new capabilities in estate rejuvenation
- Now finally, the fourth thing we want Sungei Kadut to pioneer is new capabilities in estate rejuvenation. And let me explain what this is. Today, around the world, many people build new industrial estates. That is one order of magnitude of challenge, to start building everything from scratch. But while it is one order of challenge, it is not the most difficult because it is almost like a blank canvas where you can paint it piece by piece. I challenged JTC to use Sungei Kadut as a testbed for us to build up a new set of capabilities in JTC, and that is how do we rejuvenate brownfield sites. And if you think about it, the market opportunities for us to do this at scale across the world is definitely much more than greenfield sites because there are only so many greenfield sites we can build on, but there will be more and more brownfield sites that we need to rejuvenate going forward.
- So these are exciting capabilities that we need to build up in-house and if we can do this well, we will be able to export such capabilities to rejuvenate other property and industrial estate sites as well. So we hope that through this, JTC will develop new capabilities in real estate management, planning and architecture with the planning and architecture communities, develop new capabilities in designing living spaces that are adaptable and fast changing.
- One of the things that must change in Sungei Kadut is this. In the past, we give people a long lease for the land, 30 years or more, and that is because in the past the industry cycle is much slower. It used to be that the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 industry is 40 years. Today, the average lifespan has gone down to 14 to 15 years, which means that product cycles are changing much faster, So when we design the new Sungei Kadut, our space must be fungible, they must be a living space. We cannot design the space thinking that nothing will change in the next 30 to 40 years. In fact as industries change, as the business models change, our spaces must be able to adapt and keep pace with them. So instead of looking at this as a mechanical task, we have to think of it from the biological perspective. How do we evolve the concept of a living space that adapts with the times. So these are capabilities that I believe will be much sought after.
- Another thing that we need to infuse into this living space is to infuse data into the planning and the evolution of the space. And if anybody has this capability to combine data, construction and building, JTC must be one of them. And we want this capability to be the next breakthrough for JTC's in-house capability so that we can also contribute to the rest of the world as we go along.
- Finally, beyond these four pioneering areas - pioneering to rejuvenate the whole industry, pioneering to capture new industries, pioneering new work, live and play concepts and pioneering the capabilities to rejuvenate estates- ultimately there is one goal in all these.
- We are doing all this, not just because of the economics. We are doing this because we want the next generation of Singaporeans to have much better opportunities in terms of employment. We want the next generation of Singaporeans to have a much more liveable environment and a much better place for them to acquire the latest skill sets to be competitive across the world. So, if anybody can do it, we must be the one.