Government-led project 'boosts confidence'

A Singapore businessman operating in Chongqing - chosen for the latest China-Singapore joint project - is upbeat about prospects for the second-tier city in China's south- west.

The project's high visibility would go a long way to boost the branding of Singapore firms on the mainland, said Dr Richard Yen, owner of a Singapore pre-school chain that has 15 centres in Chongqing.

"Small businesses like us may not be able to participate directly in such mega-projects that require a much longer-term commitment," he said.

But this creates awareness of the Singapore brand, which could reap dividends for the businesses.

"Ride on the brand, not necessarily the project," said Dr Yen.

Chongqing was named the site of the third government-to-government project between Singapore and China by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit here last weekend.

Dr Yen picked Chongqing as the city to start his business in 2007, as he was looking for greenfield opportunities in a market that has very few foreign pre-school operators.

He had ruled out the more developed coastal cities so that he could be free of intense competition.

Chongqing, with its huge population, good infrastructure and a business-friendly administration, was an ideal place for him to get started.

The city now looks very different from eight years ago when he first entered the market.

"It's changing really fast, much faster than the first-tier cities."

Dr Yen said Chongqing's high growth rate - 11 per cent for the first nine months of this year - also meant that it has a burgeoning middle class that has a huge appetite for services, especially quality ones from Singapore firms.

He has turned his attention to opening more schools in China and the region, but will add three more in Chongqing in the next year.

Longus Research Institute chief executive Koh Chin Yee said the government-led nature of the joint project could also help boost investor confidence, which could further spur overall growth of the city.

Longus is a Singapore-based think-tank which focuses on issues in Asia, especially China and its influence on Asia-Pacific geopolitics and socio-economic environment.

"In China, investors see governmental leadership and involvement as necessary commitment and direction before investment money and effort could be put in," he said.

Mr Thomas Chua, president of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also sees great value in having the Government pave the way for Singapore businesses in Chongqing.

Government-led projects"could provide policies and new business opportunities that private projects could not cover", he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Govt-led project 'boosts confidence''. Print Edition | Subscribe