JTC is the lead government agency responsible for the planning and development of industrial infrastructure to support and catalyse the growth of industries and enterprises in Singapore. In this interview, Ng Lang, Chief Executive Officer of JTC, discusses the changing role of the agency, and how it is working to make the city-state even more attractive for multinational companies.
Could you tell us about JTC Corporation’s inception?
When Singapore became independent in 1965, we had to take on a bold industrialization program to attract foreign investments and bring in new industries to create much-needed jobs for the fast-growing population. JTC was set up to spearhead the planning and development of Singapore’s industrial infrastructure for this purpose.
Our first job was to reclaim land from swamps and build an industrial township in the western part of Singapore. The early factories were simple buildings, constructed quickly so companies could set up fast and without fuss. Many were high-rise factories which could house numerous light and labor-intensive industries without consuming too much land.
How has JTC’s role evolved over the years?
We evolve with the needs of the economy. In the 1980s and 1990s, when the Singapore economy moved from being labor-intensive to capital-intensive, we started building industrial estates that catered to specific industry clusters, such as the Tuas Biomedical Park for biomedical manufacturing activities, and the Tampines Wafer Fab Park. We also embarked on an ambitious project to amalgamate seven offshore islands to create Jurong Island, which became home to one of the largest petrochemical complexes in the world.
In the 21st century, when Singapore further evolved into an innovation-driven economy, we started clustering the academia and science parks to support knowledge-intensive activities like R&D. Development in one-north began with Biopolis - a world-class R&D hub for biomedical sciences. This was followed by the Fusionopolis and Mediapolis cluster for infocomm, science, engineering and media industries. Companies want to be in these areas because of the energy of the ecosystem that can make innovation happen. Our work also shifted from just building infrastructure into paying attention to the “softer” aspects of place-making, like programming places and curating activities.
The next phase of our work is defined by technological revolution and the need to meet the needs of an increasingly sophisticated workforce.
In the north-east of the island, we are building a new 50-hectare district to cater to the digital economy. There, we are conceptualizing a district with sensors to collect data. The data will be put in an open platform that can be used to facilitate the innovation of new solutions. We hope to be able to use the data to manage and run our buildings and estate more efficiently. But we also hope that anyone who has a good idea can use the data to build an app to solve a problem.
In the West, the Jurong Innovation District (JID) is the next manufacturing estate that we have conceived for Industry 4.0. This is where we work with fellow government agencies, technology enablers and businesses to help industries upgrade to industry 4.0 capability, and where we are beginning to see factories of the future setting up.
How do initiatives such as the Jurong Innovation District or the Punggol Digital District attract multinational companies to Singapore?
The key is to be able to create value for companies. Part of the value is to create a safe, clean and green environment where companies can attract talent and their families. The other is to develop world-class infrastructure that allows businesses to be plugged in to the rest of the world. We must also make sure that there is always an adequate talent pool to support businesses. The current Industry Transformation Maps play an important role in ensuring that the workforce is able to support the needs of the industry in a fast-changing environment.
These are fundamentals that will not change, and the entire government works as a whole to achieve them.
When it comes to innovating core solutions towards a smart nation and smart city, how important is it to provide the real opportunity for businesses to come up with the solutions like the platform that JTC is creating in Punggol Digital District?
JTC manages several estates and has the scale to provide such opportunities. Every year, we release a series of problem statements on building and construction related issues. If anyone can solve these issues, we are happy to adopt their solutions. For instance, together with a startup, we have developed a façade inspection solution using drones and AI. It is capable of automating and simplifying building façade inspection.
We also offer our estates as test-beds to try things out. one-north, for instance, is currently a designated test-bed for drones and self-driving vehicles.