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Business Times - 13 Aug 2009

Word of caution: don't export Singapore model wholesale

Urbanisation must be modified to suit local conditions: Sembcorp

IN exporting urban solutions, Singapore companies must not make the mistake of transplanting wholesale the Singapore model.

That word of caution comes indirectly from Low Sin Leng, executive chairman of Sembcorp Industrial Parks. What she says of her company's experience in Vietnam applies to other Singapore companies in other markets.

'There are many degrees of urbanisation,' she says. 'We must be realistic and not simply replicate Singapore's version of urbanisation in Vietnam. Urbanisation must be modified to suit local market readiness.'

Ms Low knows what she's talking about. Sembcorp Industrial Parks has been building industrial parks in Vietnam since 1994, pumping US$660 million into four huge projects totalling 4,845 hectares.

And the industrial parks - including the later ones which incorporate integrated industrial townships with high-rise apartments and villas and eco gardens - have all been pretty successful.

'These projects flourished by offering reliable utilities infrastructure and world-class manufacturing environment to an influx of foreign manufacturers keen to have access to cost-effective manufacturing sites from which to export electronics goods,' Ms Low says.

Built with local partners, Sembcorp's industrial parks in Vietnam have been 'vital' in helping the country transform 'rural land to self-sufficient industrial estates hosting global manufacturers, thereby generating positive national economic spinoffs in terms of provincial economic development and job creation'.

The new integrated townships aim to 'produce sustainable developments by way of good urban planning and improved utilities facilities with sound environmental systems'.

Ms Low says that there is no lack of business opportunities for Sembcorp, because many cities have ambitions to go urban - and International Enterprise Singapore has lots of recommendations.

'But as a commercial outfit, we have to be mindful in project selection,' she says. 'Location and timing are important considerations as well.'

There are growth opportunities in emerging markets, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, China and India.

'They like to leverage on Singapore's experience to expedite their own development,' Ms Low says. 'All know what they want, but how and who to implement it is what matters.'

She says that Singapore is looked to because 'we are good systems integrators and project implementers'.

'There is a certain level of expectation for Singapore-managed organisations,' Ms Low says. 'They are comfortable with Singapore's values and integrity, transparency and efficiency. It is a question of taking a project beyond the masterplan. That is where our success is.'