JTC has played important role in Singapore's progress, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong viewing the items of a time capsule that will be placed on June 1 in JTC's first permanent headquarters at Jurong Town Hall. With him are (from left) Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat, architect of the original Jurong Town Hall; Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Tan Wu Meng; JTC chairman Loo Choon Yong and its CEO Ng Lang. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - When JTC set out to build the CleanTech Park at Nanyang Avenue six years ago, it discovered the area was home to a rich ecosystem, including some endangered butterfly species.

It could have bulldozed everything, but it chose to preserve the area's biodiversity for future generations, JTC's cluster group director Leow Thiam Seng said.

So the agency carried out surveys, adjusted its plans to minimise disturbance to the environment, and even specially selected plants for the project that would help the butterflies thrive.

The approach reflects the evolution of JTC over the years, from an agency formed in 1968 to industrialise Singapore into one that spearheads projects that not only bring investments and jobs, but also renews the urban landscape.

Speaking at the 40th anniversary dinner of JTC at Shangr-la Hotel on Friday night (May 25), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong underscored a similar message, highlighting the key role the agency has played in Singapore's progress.

"You have often been the front-runner and pathfinder, constantly pushing boundaries, breaking new ground, building new partnerships, he said. "I hope you will continue to build on your legacy of high standards and bold ambitions."

Formed "amid great urgency" in 1968 as Singapore was finding its feet soon after independence, JTC's first project, the Jurong Industrial Estate, was meant to show the world that a young Singapore was an attractive and safe place to do business.

Mr Lee said 1,800 acres of land and millions of dollars were set aside for it, but only two companies, NatSteel and Pelican Textiles, had production plants there.

Then-Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee had famously warned that the project would go down in posterity as "Goh's Folly", should it fail.

Recounting this, Mr Lee said: "Behind Dr Goh's statement was the absolute determination to make sure that Singapore succeeded in industrialising our economy and creating jobs for our people."

In the end, 300 factories were built by 1968, providing jobs for 21,000 people.

Over the years, Mr Lee said, JTC's mission changed as Singapore's economy diversified beyond manufacturing.

When Singapore wanted to become a petrochemical hub, and later moved to a knowledge-based economy, JTC had not only provided physical space and infrastructure, but also spearheaded new concepts to support these ambitions.

The agency also had a tradition of innovating, said Mr Lee, citing the development of the Jurong Rock Caverns, an underground storage facility for liquid hydrocarbons.

Former JTC chairman Lim Neo Chian recalled how the agency has had to keep looking for ways to better use land as Singapore became more built up in each new phase of development.

"In my eight years we explored building higher - we made ramp-up and stack-up factories - then we decided we needed to go underground and began studying how to do this," Mr Lim added.

Mr Lee also lauded the agency for focusing its resources on areas which the private sector is unable or unwilling to do, citing projects such as the new Jurong Innovation District and Punggol Digital District, both of which bring together academic and research institutions as well as companies.

"As you push our physical boundaries and renew our urban landscape, you remind Singaporeans that we are only limited by our imagination," he said.

JTC chairman Loo Choon Yong, in his speech, said that as JTC looks towards its next phase of growth, it is committed to innovating and embarking on more ambitious projects.

With the growing concern over climate change, for instance, the agency has been progressively adopting renewable energy sources and smart systems that use resources more efficiently and will announce more initiatives this year on this front, he said.

This is a development Mr Leow, who has worked at the JTC for 26 years, is proud of.

"I grew with the company and I appreciate that shift in perspective.

" We aren't just talking about numbers, infrastructure and technology, but about building a home," he said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.