Companies looking to increase productivity, expand overseas, or simply pivot and grow, will soon be able to tap bigger grants and expanded loan schemes.
These support schemes are no longer about tiding businesses over the current crisis, but about helping them to adapt to the new reality, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said as he announced several enhancements yesterday.
Firms looking to internationalise will be able to have up to 80 per cent of qualifying costs covered from Nov 1 to Sept 30 next year - up from 70 per cent currently - under the Market Readiness Assistance Grant.
The scope of the grant's coverage will also be extended to cover participation in virtual trade fairs, to encourage companies to find new overseas opportunities through such platforms, Mr Chan said during a virtual media briefing.
Retailers, in particular, would be wise to expand their reach overseas, as the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of online shopping and opened up new opportunities, he said.
The higher level of support currently available to businesses looking to pivot, grow and digitalise will be available for an additional nine months.
The Enterprise Development and Productivity Solutions grants will now cover up to 80 per cent of qualifying costs until Sept 30 next year.
More help will also be available to businesses seeking loans.
From Jan 1 next year, construction companies can apply for loans to finance the fulfilment of secured domestic projects with at least half of the risk shared by the Government.
The Temporary Bridging Loan Programme, which provides access to working capital, and a financing scheme for trade loans will also be extended by six months.
Both schemes will see the Government's risk share lowered from 90 per cent to 70 per cent from April 1 next year, however.
Speaking after a visit to SK Jewellery's headquarters in Changi Business Park, Mr Chan said the retail sector faces a bumpy road to recovery, as the challenges it faces are twofold.
Structural pressures such as the rise of e-commerce had already put it under strain before the pandemic hit, the minister noted, while a lower propensity to spend will persist in the near term.
There are serious implications to this, as the retail sector employs about 4.1 per cent of the Republic's total workforce, Mr Chan said.
"Any impact on the retail industry will have very grave consequences on the employment prospects of the workers in Singapore."
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said at the same event that there are 2,500 jobs available in the retail industry, of which two in five are for professionals, managers, executives and technicians.
Workers in the sector are also being trained to meet the challenges of digitalisation and redeployed to higher value-add job roles, she said.
Mr Chan warned that businesses that do not move away from the traditional retail model will find it difficult to survive.
Singapore companies will have to distinguish themselves in an international marketplace, he said, citing SK Jewellery as an example of a retailer that has developed a niche by creating lab-grown diamonds.
Mr Lim Yong Sheng, executive director and group chief executive of SK Jewellery, said these diamonds tap into the trend of younger consumers seeking more environmentally friendly purchases.
The firm has also developed virtual consultations for customers shopping for engagement rings, tapping schemes such as the Enterprise Development Grant to enhance its e-commerce and last-mile delivery capabilities.
Mr Ho Meng Kit, chief executive of the Singapore Business Federation, said the extension of government assistance schemes will provide more time for business conditions to stabilise.
Urging firms to make full use of the schemes to retool, he said: "This will help businesses forge a new path forward and thrive in the long run."