Eyeing promising players to boost growth

Technology fuels new industries even as it gives life to old ones, reports Aw Cheng Wei

Singapore is on a mission to court technology mavens to drive foreign investment and create higher-quality jobs, as it strives to be a digital hub in the region.

The chief suitor is the Economic Development Board (EDB), which is eyeing advanced manufacturers and tech start-ups that want to expand in the region.

Even old-timers such as the agriculture sector are given a second look, as technology has made it more viable in Singapore.

But foreign tech start-ups looking to expand into South-east Asia rank high on EDB's wish list, as it plans and executes Singapore's business and investment strategies.

Said its managing director Chng Kai Fong in an interview last month: "I'm trying to bring in the next Google, Facebook, Alibaba - people who think of Asean as a market.

"I want to be able to facilitate their entry so that they set up their first presence in Singapore."

Mr Chng's aim is to create an environment that will coax Asean companies or the Asean group to do business with the world via Singapore.

WOOING FIRMS

I'm trying to bring in the next Google, Facebook, Alibaba - people who think of Asean as a market. I want to be able to facilitate their entry so that they set up their first presence in Singapore.

MR CHNG KAI FONG, Economic Development Board managing director, on the investors he wants to woo. 

The signs are promising, as Singapore has attracted regional start-ups to set up shop here, he said, citing the example of Indonesia's Gojek, a ride-hailing digital platform.

With advanced manufacturers, the focus is to create higher-quality jobs for Singaporeans, even as the EDB strives to bring in as much foreign investment as before.

The focus now is much more on the types of jobs and their value, rather than just the number of jobs the foreign investor can create, said Mr Chng.

Latest figures show Singapore attracted $9.4 billion in fixed asset investments in 2017, a sum that lies within its forecast of $8 billion to $10 billion.

Technological advances have also given new life to sectors such as agriculture.

"Suddenly the economics start to make sense for stuff that didn't use to make sense," said Mr Chng.

"We never thought that agriculture would be viable in Singapore."

But it "makes a lot more sense now as intensive, high-rise farming taps artificial intelligence to optimise growing conditions", he added.

The Straits Times looks at three promising players: tech start-ups, advanced manufacturers and agritech companies.