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Making the space count

Innovative infrastructure development has been key to Singapore's economic success.

The Science Park is home to around 380 companies employing more than 13,000 people, conducting a wide range of knowledge intensive activities in areas such as IT, info-communications, biomedical sciences, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.

SINGAPORE'S journey from a city with poor living conditions to a vibrant metropolis and global business hub is one that many countries have tried to emulate. This urban transformation helped to fuel the republic's progress, and reflects the importance of infrastructure to socioeconomic development.

Led by government agencies such as the Economic Development Board (EDB) and JTC, Singapore introduced many innovations in the development of its industrial space, including groundbreaking projects such as the Singapore Science Park in the 1980s.

Modelled after similar developments in the US and Europe, the Science Park pioneered the concept of work-play business spaces here, seamlessly integrating high-quality business and research & development (R&D) infrastructure with lifestyle amenities and supporting services, set within a lushly landscaped campus environment.

Many of the first companies to carry out R&D activities in Singapore were located in the development. Today, it is home to some 380 companies employing more than 13,000 people, conducting a wide range of knowledge-intensive activities in areas such as IT, info-communications, biomedical sciences, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.

Leveraging on their experience in developing projects like Science Park, Singapore companies started sharing their expertise overseas in the 1990s in projects such as the Suzhou Industrial Park in China.

Says Manohar Khiatani, deputy group CEO of Ascendas-Singbridge and president & group CEO of Ascendas: "Singapore Science Park's success also laid the groundwork for further growth of business parks in Singapore and Ascendas' foray overseas, bringing the Singapore brand and experience to the international arena,"

In 1994, for instance, Ascendas pioneered India's first work-live-play IT Park, International Tech Park Bangalore (ITPB) in the Whitefield region. Today, ITPB houses a community of over 35,000 professionals.

More recent projects have reflected Singapore's move up the value chain into sectors such as biomedical and chemicals. Underpinning its strategy is the concept of clustering, which involves putting related companies from a specific sector in one location.

This "co-location" allows support services to be provided efficiently to companies from that sector, and creates business opportunities for the supporting SMEs. For instance, the JTC BioMed One at Tuas Biomedical Park comprises a Vendors Hub, which houses SMEs providing a range of supporting services to the larger biomedical companies.

Lim Hng Kiang, Minister for Trade and Industry, in a speech at the Groundbreaking of JTC Space @ Tuas earlier this year, said: "For industrial space provisions, we also made a deliberate effort to cluster and integrate companies very early on. Jurong Island is a classic example. We clustered companies along the value chain of the chemicals industry, connected them through seamless corridors of common services infrastructure, and created significant business and logistical synergies."

JTC Space @ Tuas takes the clustering concept one step further by supporting both heavy manufacturing industries such as the oil and gas sector, as well as lighter manufacturing industries such as precision engineering.

Going forward, Singapore will need to continue innovating when it comes to developing its infrastructure to meet the evolving needs of the economy.

Loo Choon Yong, chairman of JTC said in a speech in February: "As land is, and will continue to be a constraint in a small country like Singapore, we have explored ways to create new industrial land and space to meet the demand of industrialists."

To increase the supply of land, the government has reclaimed land from the sea and also explored the use of underground space for various purposes. The massive Jurong Rock Caverns (JRC) - South-east Asia's first underground storage facility designed to hold crude oil and other liquid hydrocarbons - is one striking example of this. The S$1.7 billion project was first conceptualised in 2001 and launched in September 2014.

The nine-storey caverns can hold 1.47 million cubic metres, or the equivalent of 580 Olympic-sized swimming pools. More importantly, it also frees up 60ha of usable land, or about 84 football fields.

Singapore is also giving a new lease of life to older industrial estates so that they can support new industries as well as the growth of existing ones. For instance, Tanjong Kling estate has been re-developed to support high value-added manufacturing activities.

Reflecting its success as a model for development, the World Bank Group announced last month that it will be expanding its Singapore office to create its first Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub. The hub will focus on the funding of sustainable infrastructure and urban development, in order to ensure access to markets and basic services.

"Singapore's ability to transform infrastructure investments into productive assets for economic growth and increased prosperity, as well as its capacity to undertake sustainable urban planning, stands as an example to many developing cities and countries," the World Bank Group said in a statement.

Going forward, Singapore will need to marry sustainability with its continued drive to develop infrastructure. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled Singapore's smart and sustainable city plan last year, which encourages the adoption of technological innovation to build community, increase productivity and enhance the quality of life.

"Singapore's development has reached a turning point, where our sustainable future lies in achieving a strategic balance of economic growth with societal well-being and environmental quality," says Mr Khiatani.

He adds: "In a dense built-up environment such as Singapore, the opportunities for real estate companies such as Ascendas to capitalise on technological advances to enhance the efficiency and performance of our buildings are immense."