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WHEN Robert Yap, executive chairman of Singapore logistics giant YCH Group, received a notice several years ago that his company had to vacate its Tuas premises to make way for an MRT extension, he was so stressed that he couldn't sleep for three nights in a row.
As he recalls it, his company was posting good growth at the time, and the bulk of the operations - 80 per cent, to be exact - was overseas. The sudden upheaval, thus, was a spanner in the works that upset his plans.
Still, Mr Yap decided to make the most of the opportunity to start afresh.
But he didn't want a mere relocation of the company. He wanted a modern facility that was packed with all the necessary elements to transform and support the logistics sector, a sunrise industry in Singapore.
With the help of the Economic Development Board and other agencies, Mr Yap secured a 6.5 hectare site in Jurong West, within the new Jurong Innovation District.
Five years after breaking ground, YCH on Friday finally opened its new Supply Chain City, which Mr Yap described as "Asia's nexus of supply chain excellence".
YCH invested more than S$200 million for the construction, with S$50 million more set aside for operations. The company employs about 5,000 people in 16 countries, including an 800-strong workforce in Singapore.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who graced the opening ceremony and went on a tour of the premises, described YCH's decision to invest in Supply Chain City back in 2012 as "wise and bold".
Back then, Singapore's logistics industry was grappling with tighter constraints in land and manpower, and technology was fast disrupting the industry through sensors, robotics and cloud computing. "Instead of being daunted by the challenges, YCH took the opportunity to harness these innovations to upgrade, and stay a step ahead of its competitors," said Mr Lee.
Supply Chain City, which has an equivalent gross floor area of two million square feet, has modern features such as radio-frequency identification and an automated storage retrieval system for cargo.
The facility has a total throughput of 450 pallets per hour, which reduces the retrieval of a pallet from three-and-a-half minutes to just 10 seconds.
YCH will also test new technologies such as autonomous vehicles and drones, and augmented and virtual reality systems.
In his speech, Mr Lee said that logistics remains an "important and promising" sector for Singapore. In 2016, logistics accounted for more than 7 per cent to the country's GDP and employed over 200,000 workers.
"We have a well-connected airport and sea ports that enable logistics companies to serve the whole region efficiently from Singapore, notwithstanding the higher land and labour costs," he said.
Mr Lee urged companies to invest in people, develop talent, retrain their staff and nurture deep knowledge and soft skills.
On its part, the government will attract, nurture and retain a strong Singaporean core of talent for the logistics industry, he said. This will enable more people to be trained ahead of demand, and to support mid-career professional conversion programmes to augment the talent pipeline.
"Together, we can maintain our status as Asia's leading global logistics hub," he said.