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Bringing Batam into the next phase
MORE than 1.8 million tourists visited Batam last year, demonstrating its healthy status as a major tourist hub in the Riau Islands. Singaporeans made up 49.66 per cent of these tourist arrivals, drawn to the island's beautiful beaches, luxurious resorts and excellent shopping just 40 minutes by ferry from Harbourfront.
While Batam has historically been a Free Trade Zone (FTZ), plans have been mooted to bestow Special Economic Zone (SEZ) status to two enclaves on the island. This would boost growth and make Batam even more attractive to investors already drawn to its proximity to Singapore, low operating costs and location outside Indonesia's unpredictable "Ring of Fire".
One of these enclaves is the luxurious beachfront Nongsa area, with the Nongsa Digital Park (NDP) that opened in March this year. The idea for the park was first proposed by Singapore-based integrated media entertainment and creative services company Infinite Studios, and was subsequently developed by its parent firm Citramas Group.
NDP itself will be part of a wider digital economy hub in Nongsa, with Singapore's Surbana Jurong appointed as master planner in July this year. The hub has been described as a "digital bridge" between Indonesia and Singapore, offering mutually beneficial opportunities to talent and companies in both countries, including through the development of luxury residences, hotels and retail elements in addition to technical and business facilities.
Since its opening, about 50 companies with support from more than 240 staff are now based at NDP, including numerous Singaporean and Singapore-based firms such as online talent recruitment platform Glints and regional mobile payment services provider LiquidPay.
Mike Wiluan, CEO of Infinite Studios, says that NDP offers an integrated and cost-efficient solution for digital start-ups and companies hoping to increase their human capital resources.
Describing the Park as an "ecosystem of like-minded companies that can collaborate more efficiently", Mr Wiluan says that NDP is a "proactive business space with a mind to source, match, connect and complement individuals and companies looking for a range of solutions". This helps companies - including those from Singapore - grow their businesses, especially in the Indonesian market.
He also highlights Nongsa's excellent infrastructure as another attractive feature. Broadband connectivity at the Park is one of the fastest in Indonesia, with almost zero latency from Singapore due to the numerous international and domestic fibre-optic cables landing just next to the area.
Plans are also underway to establish a data centre at the Park. In addition to the pre-existing infrastructure, more power sources will be added to ensure full operational efficiency while taking advantage of Batam's natural location away from Indonesia's earthquake fault lines and close proximity to Singapore. Mr Wiluan notes that these factors make NDP an ideal location for data centre operations, with companies being able to "plug and play" by outsourcing their storage and processing services.
A state-of-the-art training centre is also in the pipeline. According to Mr Wiluan, "Indonesian talents have an excellent work ethic and are always keen to learn new skills". NDP already boasts numerous vocational training initiatives supported by Infinite's Infinite Learning division. Infinite Learning has also partnered with tech giant Apple to open an Apple Developer Academy next year, with the first batch of students slated to begin training in February next year.
Three more buildings are due to be completed at NDP this year, and Mr Wiluan hopes that in time to come, Nongsa and Batam as a whole will become an "attractive living and working alternative" to Singapore and Johor Bahru for a new generation of digital workers. Various lifestyle and recreation facilities would be developed to help support this. Adding to the Park's appeal will be its eco-friendly transport options, with discussions underway to offer electric mobility options such as e-bikes and electric vehicles. These vehicles will not run on public roads, but rather on private campus grounds.
"We hope to bring a new dimension to the way tech companies or companies using digital utilities do their business. This is in the form of an ecosystem that seamlessly blends work, living and recreation at affordable costs on every level," says Mr Wiluan.
There have been other exciting developments in Batam as well apart from the digital hub. The Foreign Ministries of Singapore and Indonesia have discussed cooperative efforts on aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities in the BKK (Batam, Bintan and Karimun) SEZ.
In August, the technical and MRO units of major Indonesian airlines Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia announced plans to build and operate eight hangars on Batam to perform aircraft maintenance work within Indonesia. The hangars can accommodate up to 24 narrow body aircraft, and could reduce the amount of maintenance, operations and repair work sent overseas by as much as 10 per cent over the next decade.
In the healthcare arena, BP Batam Hospital, BP Batam and healthcare blockchain firm dClinic have also inked a major agreement in July this year at the Fullerton Hotel help transform medical care in Batam. The US$140 million contract will see dClinic, which is headquartered in Singapore, deliver a number of projects in Batam, including helping to establish Batam Medical Blockchain based on its Private Healthcare Blockchain system. These innovations will help Batam in its journey to become both an Indonesian and a regional medical tourism powerhouse.
On the seafront, Batam's state port operator Perlindo I also announced funding of S$115million to further upgrade its port. This injection of funds aims to enhance the competitiveness of the northern port of Batu Ampar by improving its cargo handling capabilities.
Plans include procuring container cranes capable of loading and unloading goods for larger ships, which would help increase productivity and reduce operating costs at the same time.