Helping large local enterprises grow as part of mindset change

Company bosses and workers have to transform their mindsets to ensure their businesses keep up amid the upheaval caused by the pandemic, experts said at a Budget discussion.

They noted that part of this shift will include growing large local enterprises so that they become more attractive to job seekers and supporting them so that they can internationalise.

Professor Hoon Hian Teck, dean of Singapore Management University's School of Economics and a Nominated MP, told the roundtable discussion organised by The Straits Times and UOB: "Going overseas can help them raise the productivity that can ultimately lead to better jobs and better pay."

As these large local enterprises grow, graduates can also be drawn to start their careers with them rather than just aiming for multinational corporations, he added.

"It can produce a little bit of signalling effect for our students, who might (find) it more exciting to join a large local enterprise because there is larger potential for them to express their creative ideas of how to break into overseas markets, for example."

UOB economist Barnabas Gan agreed, saying: "Singapore cannot be inward-looking. We don't have... natural resources. But there's one thing that we do have, which is talent and the drive to innovate and develop deep capabilities within our various industries.

"The crisis has taught us one key lesson - that companies that have online presence, that deal with e-commerce, for example, are the ones that are poised to succeed."

Mr Gan added that the initiatives to help local enterprises raise capital are also vital to supporting their growth.

"The private firms that are really surviving right now are those that have already shown signs of strength and resilience, especially in the face of the crisis. But then again, the more realistic expectation is that profits, as well as the overheads, have been somewhat severely impacted," he noted.

"So the raising of private equity and (investment firm) Temasek helping these companies... could be one of the efforts by the Government to keep the companies competitive and also afloat so that we are able to take opportunities when Covid-19 ends."

Even traditional sectors like agriculture can also seize new tech opportunities to reinvent themselves.

Mr Douglas Foo, president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and vice-chairman of the Singapore Business Federation, said: "Aquaculture, aqua-farming, agriculture, agri-farming are no longer just about farming. They cut into manufacturing. You can even create food in the lab."

For instance, light and temperature can be controlled so that fish farming can be made more effective. Vertical farming can help overcome the limitations that Singapore has in terms of land area.

These innovations can help Singapore achieve its vision of producing 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030, Mr Foo noted.

"All these things are just limited by our imagination. With the talent that we have and the youth who are really thinking out of the box, the sky's the limit," he said.

Sue-Ann Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2021, with the headline 'Helping large local enterprises grow as part of mindset change'. Subscribe