IE Singapore will give priority to high-growth companies

Move will make better use of agency's limited resources even as more firms go abroad: CEO

International Enterprise Singapore's CEO, Mr Lee Ark Boon.
International Enterprise Singapore's CEO, Mr Lee Ark Boon. PHOTO: INTERNATIONAL ENTERPRISE SINGAPORE

Fast-expanding firms or those operating in high-growth sectors will be at the head of the queue when they seek International Enterprise (IE) Singapore's help to expand overseas.

The move follows the agency's plan to sharpen its focus on "capturing economic value" for the economy - and that will see it shifting from helping all and sundry to homing in on high-growth companies.

These are firms - regardless of size - that create good jobs for Singaporeans, spur exports, generate business spending that has positive spin-offs for the economy and gain access to new technologies.

IE Singapore is the government agency tasked with promoting international trade and partnering firms in their globalisation efforts.

"Many more companies are going overseas. At the same time, with limited resources on the Government's part - or at least not growing as fast as the demand - we need to prioritise... For some of the low-growth companies, they would not have as much face time with our officers," chief executive Lee Ark Boon said yesterday.

Last year, IE Singapore helped 34,000 firms, up from 28,000 in 2014, and the number is expected to grow further. In contrast, the agency's headcount here and in its 39 overseas centres has remained fairly constant at about 500 staff.

Priority will now be given to firms with growth rates above the industry average or those that are in thriving sectors like infrastructure, urban solutions, financial services, logistics, advanced manufacturing, and legal and accounting services.

Mr Lee, giving an update on the agency's plans in his first interview since becoming chief executive in February, added: "The national average is about 6 per cent growth... What we are hoping is that the companies we work with should be punching above that... We want to work closely with companies that are growing at close to double-digit rates."

Such companies include logistics firm Ascent Solutions, bus maker SC Auto and apparel manufacturer Teo Garments, the agency said.

But Mr Lee said firms that do not have high growth but have good potential to be nurtured into "global champions" will still get help from IE Singapore.

He said targeting firms that capture economic value for Singapore could have "significant impact" in 10 years as companies start to conduct more activities and services from Singapore.

With the shift in focus, the agency hopes to work more closely with trade associations and chambers, which could provide continued support to non-high-growth companies and help firms with basic queries on doing business abroad.

One idea is to jointly set up more centres abroad, similar to what IE Singapore has done with the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI). The IE-SCCCI Singapore Enterprise Centre has helped 5,000 firms since it was set up in Shanghai in 2013.

Singapore Manufacturing Federation president Douglas Foo welcomed the opportunity to partner the agency beyond co-organising overseas missions and seminars.

"This focus... could perhaps get other firms to think about business model innovation and how they chart their future growth," Mr Foo told The Straits Times yesterday.

IE Singapore is also revamping its website to provide more information and interactive options. It launched a chatbot function "Ask Jamie@IE" this week to field questions from users.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2016, with the headline 'IE S'pore will give priority to high-growth companies'. Subscribe