More grants and incentives please

Trade associations reveal their Budget wish-list and give their take on how to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship

Follow BT's Budget 2017 coverage here: bt.sg/budget17.

IN anticipation of the 2017 Singapore Budget and with the Committee on the Future Economy's focus on developing a digital economy, encouraging innovation and promoting entrepreneurship, what do local industries hope to see in the Budget?

Industry leaders from the following trade associations give their views:

  • T Chandroo, chairman of the Association of Early Childhood and Training Services (ASSETS);
  • Paul Lim, founder and president of Supply Chain Asia (SCA);
  • Keat Ong, president of Society of Interior Designers, Singapore (SIDS);
  • Mark Yong, president of Singapore Furniture Industry Council (SFIC);
  • Melissa Tan, chairman of Waste Management and Recycling Association Singapore (WMRAS)

Q: How can we sustain Singapore's position as one of the leading global economies for doing business?

SIDS: Singapore's best advantage is its connectivity with the world. For the West, we are seen as the gateway to Asian markets and to the East, we are viewed as the link to the Western counterparts.

SFIC: For a city or country to remain at the top, it requires more than just excelling in economic merit and clout. Creative and cultural excellence are increasingly seen as equally important facets of a city's status as well as major contributors to the global economy. The creative economy is one that covers activities related to creativity, information, knowledge generation and sharing. It is growing on a global scale creating in the process new jobs and opportunities, generating wealth and adding punch to the soft power of a city.

SCA: Singapore needs to ensure that we continue to remain open as an economy, and avoid becoming xenophobic, inward-looking and nationalistic. For a country lacking natural resources to continue growing, we are really left with no choice but to pursue cooperation regionally and globally.

WMRAS: From the perspective of SME owners, we hope that costs and government bureaucracy can be reduced. We have members who chose to do the bulk of their business in Malaysia, citing lower land, labour and living costs, as well as fewer regulations and requirements by government agencies. It does not help that we have articles going around saying that Singapore is the world's most expensive city!

ASSETS: We have succeeded because we had kept our economy open to the world - allowing the free flow of ideas, talent and wealth to our shores. We must continue to stay open and keep building on our openness and connectivity with the right physical infrastructure and the right mindsets. We must not be swayed by the nationalistic call of protectionist measures which seem to be rising over the years.

Q: How can the government help companies to go digital?

SIDS: The interior design industry here is already pretty digital but our costs are high due to software licensing. We would like to see subsidies in this area. For the more advanced companies with more sophisticated projects, we would welcome government grants and support for advanced technology such as large-format printers, 3D printers and other tooling equipment.

SFIC: SFIC has recently launched its Smart initiative to help the industry to go digital. It is currently developing an eMarketplace with the support of IE Singapore under the LEAD programme jointly administered by Spring Singapore. As many of our members are SMEs, they will require assistance to adopt and implement e-commerce to expand their businesses beyond their traditional markets. Equally important would be branding and communications in targeted markets as well as help for our members to build capability in data analytics to enhance their supply chain processes - in particularly, the last-mile delivery for cross-border sales as a vast majority of our members have factories in the region. For companies which are ready or aspire to scale up, we would like government to support with growth capital and provide them easier access to low-cost capital such as bridging them with venture capitalists and private equity funds.

SCA: The government should continue its direction set in the CFE to encourage more Singapore companies to explore and adopt digital technologies. This must be more than just grants. Work with private sectors to set up "innovation playgrounds" that encourage companies to trial, inject new technologies into controlled application or environment and work out strategies for full adoption.

ASSETS: The government can certainly help by taking the digital route to improve the operations and raise productivity of early childhood centres. ASSETS is currently exploring with Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) to help preschool centres adopt more digital solutions to help streamline their administration, and other compliance procedures. We also hope that the government can give incentives for preschool centres to implement cutting-edge digital aids such as the 3D classroom and robotic teaching systems to make lessons more interactive and aid our teachers in helping students to better grasp concepts in a more engaging way.

Q: With the expiry of the PIC grants, what do companies in your industry hope to look for?

SFIC: The sharing economy is already here and we should look at funding of common platforms for SMEs and startups to build eco-systems as well as encourage skills development. More grants can also be given to associations to help their members grapple with the transformational changes in today's disrupted landscape.

WMRAS: The expiry of the PIC scheme is regrettable because it had encouraged SMEs to invest in technology which doesn't come cheap and has enabled firms to send staff for more training that helps to develop the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit at reduced costs. The government can come up with a new financing scheme to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in place of the PIC grants or direct local industries to existing schemes, but please, make the application process less onerous.

ASSETS: As most preschool operators are SMEs, we would like grants to help defray the cost of investing in technology and equipment. In fact, given the very competitive landscape and a weaker economic environment, helping ease cashflow is a key concern. We would welcome more assistance in the form of rental rebates or subsidies, employee credits and more training assistance for staff.

There should also be more grants and subsidy schemes to help parents pay for their children's preschool fees - especially in such difficult economic times when job security has become a top concern.

Q: How can local industries be further encouraged to promote innovation and entrepreneurship?

SIDS: Our industry depends more on brains than hands. Not everything can be replaced by machines. Also, outsourcing our production processes to our neighbouring countries will not offer a permanent solution. Therefore we need to nurture the right talent and give them opportunities to flourish. We are hoping to have government support - not just for the operational hardware & software, but also opportunities to market our products and services abroad.

SFIC: There are many ways to boost innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

We should look at not only the physical aspects of the country's economic structure, but also a cultural and mindset transformation. Free flow of ideas, free flow of talent and good capital support to refresh ourselves and let design flourish and financial sector reform to give the ballast to allow innovative ideas to come to fruition. More crowdfunding and other options of financing should be made available and accessible so that startups and SMEs are given more scope to expand and realise their dreams.

ASSETS: To encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, we must keep our economy open to new ideas and new talent. We should also allow more and easier access to capital and at the same time, manage the rising business costs in Singapore. The government can do much more to introduce new incentives for SMEs and preschool operators to go overseas as Singapore's population growth is slowing and hence growth potential here is limited.

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