Tech park in Batam opens, aims to be 'digital bridge' between Singapore and Indonesia

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The 100ha Nongsa Digital Park, slightly larger than Singapore's Botanic Gardens, is Batam's first large-scale commercial project.

[BATAM] Nestled among lush greenery, a multimillion-dollar technology park was officially opened on the Indonesian island of Batam on Tuesday (March 20).

It will bring together digital entrepreneurs from the region, including Singapore, to an environment where its developers hope they can "work, live and play".

The 100ha Nongsa Digital Park, slightly larger than Singapore's Botanic Gardens, is Batam's first large-scale commercial project. The idea of the park was mooted by Infinite Studios, a Singapore-based integrated media entertainment and creative services company, and developed by its parent company Citramas Group.

The foreign ministers of Indonesia and Singapore officially launched the first three buildings of the park, saying it was an example of how both neighbours can work together through the private sector for mutual benefit.

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Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said it was "a concrete follow-up" to discussions between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at their leaders' retreat last September to develop Batam as a "digital bridge" between Singapore and many of Indonesia's fast-growing cities.

"This Nongsa Digital Park is a beginning, a pilot project of our further efforts to achieve Indonesia's digital economy potential," she told 350 guests at the launch ceremony.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step, and this is a good step."

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the park is an example of how Singapore and Indonesia can work together with the private sector for a "win-win outcome".

"We are happy to encourage more mutually-beneficial projects with Batam. A thriving, confident, creative digital hub in Batam will be good for Indonesia, good for Singapore, and good for our region," he added.

The park, he added, will support Indonesia's plan which President Joko Widodo had announced to create 1,000 new digital start-ups worth US$10 billion by 2020. It will also complement Singapore's plans to expand its infocomm and technology sector.

Batam, an island of about 1.2 million people, is only 40 minutes by ferry from Singapore, sheltered from natural disasters and has lower operational costs for businesses.

The park, which sits in the upmarket beachfront resort area on the island's northwestern tip, is expected to rake in more than US$500m (S$659.25m) in potential investments, its senior director Marco Bardelli said in a statement.

So far, three of nine office blocks have been completed in the first phase, which will create some 1,500 jobs, he added. In the future, there will be pathways for eco-friendly electric bicycles and buggies, and more retail and food and beverage outlets.

Mr Bardelli added that the park "has an ideal infrastructure for digital businesses to grow and it incorporates plans for a future data centre, complete with lifestyle and tourist facilities."

Four main tenants are now occupying two office blocks. One is Glints, a recruitment platform based in Singapore and Indonesia which helps to build engineering teams for companies in both countries.

More than 30 Indonesian developers and software engineers are currently working out of a 150sqm open-plan office space in a two-storey bungalow overlooking a lake.

Glints chief executive Oswald Yeo, 25, said the park's proximity to Singapore has helped to reduce communication overheads which come with hiring developers in places such as Vietnam and Yogyakarta on Java. "We can help our Singapore client companies to tap on a regional and cost effective tech talent pool," he said.

Ms Ho Semun, executive director of SGTech, a Singapore industry association formerly known as the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation, said "there is interest from local companies in the Nongsa Digital Park but work is still in progress".

A Singapore Economic Development Board spokesman told The Straits Times the park "provides a valuable digital bridge across the region, Singapore and Indonesia".

Singapore companies are able to further their opportunities in the digital economy and expand into Indonesia's market while Indonesian and regional companies are able to co-create new solutions, test new ideas and be involved in joint digital projects in the region, she said. "The park serves to support companies, not just in the e-commerce sector, but also other sectors that require digital talent, as they grow their businesses," she added.

Mr Lukita Dinarsyah Tuwo, chairman of the Batam Indonesia Free Zone Authority (BP Batam) said the authorities are looking into carving the park into the island's first special economic zone, with more tax allowances and tax holidays.

THE STRAITS TIMES

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