Success Begets Success
It was a measure of Singapore's success at industrialisation that led to a new range of economic dilemmas. In the 1980s, full employment spurred high labour turnover as workers had their pick of abundant jobs. High wages and an overvalued currency dragged down productivity, chiselling away at Singapore's competitive edge. In 1985, recession hit the nation for the very first time since independence, and hard lessons were learnt.
To sharpen its competitive edge, Singapore's focus was on improving productivity, shifting the economy towards capital-intensive industries, and pushing companies to restructure and be less reliant on low-skilled foreign workers. JTC embarked on a visionary 10-year Master Plan to support Singapore's move into capital-intensive economic activities. These included electronics, precision engineering and chemicals as well as high-technology R&D and services industries.
Singapore scaled up towards becoming a modern economy driven by science, technology, knowledge and skills. Similarly, JTC adjusted and adapted flexibly to spearhead the building of ground-breaking infrastructure such as the Singapore Science Park and the reclamation of the Tuas "hockey stick."
The fortuitous successes of the 1960s and 1970s sparked the successes of the 1980s as Singapore, JTC and her people forged ahead to be at the forefront of the industries.
To accelerate the national policy of promoting research and development, JTC developed the Singapore Science Park to catalyse research and innovation in the manufacturing sector. The Singapore Science Park would offer a new industrial typology for businesses to house research & development (R&D) activities, high-technology industries and software enterprises, helping them to stay ahead and remain competitive in the changing economic landscape.
The Singapore Science Park was conceived in the early 1980s when the Singapore Government's plan was to develop Singapore into a modern industrial economy based on science, technology, skills and knowledge. During this phase of industrialisation, the emphasis was to develop high-technology industries,
whose products would be less vulnerable to trade protectionism from developed nations.
Hence, in the overall design of the Science Park, which was strategically located next to the National University of Singapore (NUS), emphasis was placed on well-designed buildings with aesthetically landscaped grounds with no fences to enhance the visual impact of wide open space. Social and recreational amenities were also built for the tenants to enjoy. To facilitate immediate start-up of operations, JTC built a few blocks of starter units for rental to R&D organisations. Fully prepared and serviced sites were available for lease to R&D organisations that preferred to build their own customised buildings. Development work started in 1981, with the Science Park set up next to NUS to encourage interaction between industrial researchers and university academics. The aim was to foster a greater exchange of knowledge and ideas.
The first two lessees were secured in 1982 - Det Norske Veritas and National Computer Board. In 1984, JTC completed the first two blocks of starter units offering ready-built spaces for rental to R&D companies. The first few firms started moving in, dealing in everything from robots to mushrooms. Later that year, Det Norske Veritas opened its Marine Technology Centre to provide marine technology services to the regional shipping and oil exploration industries. By March 1990, JTC completed the first Centre for Information Technology (CINTECH) while a second building, CINTECH II, was nearing its completion to accommodate the needs of the growing computer and software-related industry. Four blocks of starter units were added during this period, allowing the Park to house as many as 51 multinational and local companies with more than 2,500 employees. The Singapore Science Park also housed the SISIR building, the Academy of Medicine, the National Computer Board, Chartered Semiconductor, and Applied Research Corporation.
In April 1990, Technology Parks Pte Ltd (now known as Ascendas) was set up to develop, market, and manage science, business and industrial parks, and related facilities. This wholly-owned subsidiary of JTC could enter into joint-venture projects with reputable private sector developers and had the ability to adopt a more commercial and flexible approach to managing specific facilities. It took over the development, marketing, and management of the Singapore Science Park's eight properties with a total of 68,500 square metres of built-up space, as well as Ang Mo Kio Industrial Parks I, II, and III. With the experience gained from developing the Science Park, JTC worked closely with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, who launched new planning guidelines for business parks in Singapore in the early 1990s. At the same time, JTC ventured into the development of the first business park called International Business Park at Jurong East in 1992. Throughout the development journey, every attempt was made to blend functionality with the creation of an environment that would be pleasing to work in.
Industrial transformation in the 1980s took on a far-sighted perspective, with long-term development needs in mind. As part of JTC's 10-year Master Plan (1980 - 1990) to support the growth of the marine and other industries requiring water front sites, it became evident that in order to meet demand, we had to find the most efficient and economical way to ensure the availability of industrial land with waterfront spaces. Therefore, in anticipation of the increased demand, JTC embarked upon a bold and ambitious project in 1984 - extensive land reclamation in Tuas.
The project, which was one of the world's largest single reclamation projects, spanned four years and required about 70 million cubic metres of sand, equivalent to 28,000 Olympic-sized pools. It was called the 'Tuas Hockey Stick', named after its shape, which was the result of maximising the length of the coastline to create the most waterfront land. By March 1988, 650 hectares of new industrial land was reclaimed, adding another 13 kilometres to the coastline of Singapore. The land reclaimed helped to build up Singapore's industrial land stock in the Tuas West area for the launch of future projects like the Tuas Biomedical Park and Sembcorp Marine's Tuas Boulevard Yard.