Centre being planned to help struggling businesses in the heartlands

At Tuesday (Sept 18) night's Singapore Heartland Enterprise Star Awards were (from left) Mr Goh Sin Teck, editor of Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao; Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing; Poh Cheu Kitchen founder Neo Poh Cheu, the overall aw
At Tuesday (Sept 18) night's Singapore Heartland Enterprise Star Awards were (from left) Mr Goh Sin Teck, editor of Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao; Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing; Poh Cheu Kitchen founder Neo Poh Cheu, the overall award winner in the Progressive Hawker Star category; Dr Teo Hark Piang, group executive director of the Union Group of Companies; and Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, president of the Federation of Merchants' Associations Singapore.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - A new centre is to be set up to give a new lease of life to businesses in the heartlands that have been on a decline.

To be called the Heartland Enterprise Centre, it will also help to rejuvenate neighbourhood precincts, starting with those in Ang Mo Kio and Bedok.

The centre is a strategic partnership between the Federation of Merchants' Associations Singapore (FMAS) and the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies and they signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday (Sept 18).

Details on when and where the centre will be established are being worked out.

The idea for the centre was born following a study last year on the significant decline in business and footfalls in the heartlands in recent years, FMAS president Yeo Hiang Meng said in Chinese at the Singapore Heartland Enterprise Star Awards last night.

He added that the centre will help the merchants by, among other things, providing skills training and encouraging the younger generation to take over heartland businesses.

FMAS, which represents merchants in neighbourhood centres, is also working with companies such as DBS and Singtel to enhance their digital skills and e-commerce capabilities, Mr Yeo said.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who was the guest of honour at the event in Shangri-La Hotel, called on the different HDB neighbourhoods to develop their own unique flavour.

"Let's aspire towards what we see in Tokyo, London and Taipei, where each and every precinct, even if they sell the same goods, they will have a different character," he added.

The event, organised by the FMAS and Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao for the fourth year, saw 45 awards given under various categories such as Best Customer Service, Best Technology Partner and Progressive Hawker Star.

Poh Cheu Kitchen, a 30-year-old stall in Bukit Merah that sells Chinese snacks like soon kueh, was the overall winner in the Progressive Hawker Star category.

Co-owner Esther Ang said her son had created Facebook and Instagram pages for the shop, and these have attracted younger customers. Adding an online delivery option has also increased sales, she said.

"We'd like to open more outlets but manpower is our biggest challenge as all our snacks are handmade. Hopefully, the upcoming centre can help us overcome this challenge," added the 48-year-old.