And There Was Jurong
Jurong will always stand for Singapore's industrialisation growth and success. What began as an impossible challenge for the young nation became an unprecedented triumph.
In the 1960s, Singapore faced a bleak future. Without natural resources, the young nation was saddled with crippling unemployment that led to widespread labour unrest. People were out of work, out of hope, and out of patience.
In stepped a United Nations team led by Dr Albert Winsemius. They proposed a daring industrialisation programme: massive land and infrastructure development, at breakneck speed, to attract foreign investments. These new investments would bring in new industries to create thousands of much-needed jobs for the fast-growing population.
Such a bold move called for strong leadership. Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Finance Minister, had nerves of steel and an astute mind. He surged ahead, choosing the rural western region as the focal site to build the future Jurong Industrial Estate. Even Dr Goh himself realised such a risk. He admitted years later that had the Jurong project failed, it would have gone down in history as 'Goh's folly'. But that didn't happen!
In 1961, development began under the Economic Development Board (EDB) to reclaim the swamps of Jurong. But as Singapore ramped up its industrialisation, it became clear that management of such estates would become more challenging and complex. In 1968, JTC emerged from EDB as the specialist agency tasked to spearhead the planning and development of industrial infrastructure for Singapore's economic development. Today, 50 years later, JTC continues to serve this pivotal role.
But it all began with Jurong!
When we see the flourishing Jurong Industrial Estate today, do we remember the foundation upon which it was built? At a time following massive unemployment and labour unrest, the newly-formed JTC was tasked to engineer an environment conducive to industrial development, an endeavour that had no precedent. Jurong Industrial Estate would be the vanguard of Singapore's industrialisation. All from nothing and against all odds, JTC, together with different stakeholders like the Economic Development Board (EDB), began to transform Jurong from a swamp to a promising development that offered job opportunities and drew in direct foreign investment.
JTC's vision was clear right from the start: Jurong would be a hub that spans beyond a space for industrialisation. It would be an open land of opportunities, where business infrastructure meets a thriving mix of social and recreational amenities. For Mr Woon Wah Siang - JTC's first Chairman - the key move was to map out the industrial estate. While rules and guidelines only provided directions, it was his bold unconventional approach that eventually paved the way to success. In a short five years, from 1968 to 1973, JTC had created in Jurong a total land stock of 3,325 hectares, complete with all the essential components - factories, roads, power lines, even railway lines and the beginnings of Jurong Port. At the same time, JTC also more than doubled its standard factory stock to 229 units in order to offer industrialists ready-built space for quick start-up.
These helped the island enjoy a manufacturing boom in made-in-Singapore products in the 1970s. First, US multinationals arrived, followed by Japanese and European companies. Hand in glove, JTC's on-site facilities and services complemented EDB's work to bring in companies which offered the best prospects for Singapore. By the end of the 1970s, the majority of industrialists were making Jurong the preferred location for their factories, due to its excellent infrastructure and services. By 1979, 5,600 hectares of land in Jurong had been developed and allocated to over 1,200 companies, which employed 93,000 workers. Alongside the industrialisation of Jurong, residential and social initiatives were also developed from the start to improve the well-being of the people who were to live and work there.
Jurong Town would be self-sufficient, offering all the socio-economic functions the residents needed, including housing, public services, social amenities, commerce, and green areas. In late 1969, JTC started the planning and construction of housing flats and a condominium development in Jurong, along with numerous beautifying projects within the vicinity. Over the course of the 1970s, the garden township of Jurong took shape, in form and substance. By 1970, residents of Jurong could stand tall atop the spiral lookout tower at Jurong Hill Park for a 360-degree view of the town.
More landmarks in Jurong followed: Jurong Bird Park was completed in 1971, Japanese Garden in 1973, and both Jurong Country Club and Chinese Garden in 1975. Other notable developments included Jurong Town Creche, which housed over 110 children, and Jurong Girls' Residence for female workers. In 1975, JTC also officially opened its new headquarters, Jurong Town Hall, located on a hill that fittingly overlooked Jurong Industrial Estate. By the end of the 1970s, Jurong had become Singapore's fifth largest town, far removed from the early settlement that few people had wanted to travel to or live in.
Building up the marine industry was vital in the face of Singapore's rising unemployment. Shipyards offered more jobs dollar for dollar than any other sectors, and having the ideal infrastructure in place could attract much-needed foreign capital, expertise and technology. To make the most of the opportunities marine industries offered, a strong foundation was mandatory, and Singapore laid out all the cornerstones - from building waterfront sites in Jurong, to offering private enterprises and foreign yards incentives to invest capital and expertise. The Economic Development Board (EDB) also offered pioneer status to key players. That soon caught the attention of Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI), Japan's second largest shipbuilding group.
Together with the Government investment arm, Temasek Holdings, IHI incorporated Jurong Shipyard Limited on 25 April 1963. From a modest 3,400-deadwight tonne floating dock by IHI, Jurong Shipyard grew to include a 90,000-deadwight tonne graving dock in 1964, just slightly more than a year after its conception. This became Singapore's first commercial shipyard set up to service tankers that shuttled between Japan and the Middle East.
When JTC entered the scene in 1968, it expedited two major projects in Jurong involving the construction of sea channels of 20 feet minimum depth to solve the problem of acute shortage of waterfront land for the marine industries. Major dredging works at the Benoi Channel and the Gul Channel were completed in 1970 and 1971 respectively, providing much needed waterfront sites for the shipyards.
The success of Jurong Shipyard and quality of its surrounding infrastructure established Singapore's marine industry as one with strong growth potential, drawing more foreign shipyards over the years: Jurong Shipbuilders (1968), Bethlehem Singapore (1969), Marathon LeTourneau (1970), Hitachi Zosen Robin Dockyard (1970) and Mitsubishi Singapore Heavy Industries (1972), and created more jobs, as well as downstream business opportunities. Although the impetus for the development of the marine industry originated earlier in the decade, Singapore would not have made such big strides in so short a period were it not for this purposeful combination: the determination to seize new opportunities to create more jobs so as to enable a better life for its people, as well as the injection of foreign technology, capital and expertise.
When developing resources for industries, JTC's objective was to build them quick and build them well, so companies may set up fast and without fuss. Flatted factories were an innovation in their time, remarkable in their productive use of land and close to the lives of their workers. They minimised workers' commuting time, and being high-rise, could house numerous light and labour-intensive industries in a small area of land.
From just four buildings in Tanglin Halt and Kallang Basin, flatted factories proliferated and became a popular choice for companies seeking a quick, operational start-up solution. When US-based Texas Instruments set up a plant in Kallang Basin in 1968, for instance, it took only 50 days to roll out its production line, employing over 1,000 workers. Standard low-rise detached and terrace factories were also designed and built by JTC for long-term and short-term lease to companies. From a stock of 93 standard factories in Jurong, JTC pushed ahead to build more of such factories in various estates.
At the same time, JTC built industrial estates in new areas zoned for a specific field of industry, which were akin to mini-Jurongs. An early example was Sungei Kadut industrial estate in Kranji in the mid-1970s, which housed sawmills relocated from the central area. A new industrial estate was also established at Loyang in Changi. This was zoned for the aviation and marine industry, partly due to Loyang's proximity to the planned international airport at Changi, built in 1981.
By its tenth year in operation, JTC had prepared a total of 4,969 hectares of land across Singapore. Its portfolio included 18 industrial estates; 619 units of standard factories - in Jurong, Kallang Basin, Kallang Park and Kampong Ampat; and another 38 blocks of flatted factories - in Ayer Rajah, Kallang Basin, Tiong Bahru, Toa Payoh, Redhill, Telok Blangah, Jurong, Sims Avenue, St Michael's and Tanglin Halt. Together, they form the scaffold that allowed Singapore to ramp up its pace of industrialisation and provide employment.