SINGAPORE - A total of $13 billion in investment commitments has been secured in the first four months of 2020 - among the highest in recent years, which will create thousands of jobs in areas such as electronics and chemicals.
They include tech firm Micron, which intends to add 1,500 jobs here over the next few years, and ExxonMobil's expansion of its refining and petrochemical complex on Jurong Island, which will create 135 new jobs upon completion.
The investment commitment secured by the Economic Development Board (EDB) is higher than the yearly amount secured from 2013 to 2018, and exceeds the $8 to $10 billion initially projected for the whole of 2020. EDB secured $15.2 billion in investment commitments over the whole of last year.
Announcing the figures at a virtual press briefing on Saturday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing also unrolled a roadmap for how the government intends to generate investments and jobs to manage the fallout of the pandemic as the economy is forecast to shrink by as much as 7 per cent.
This ranges from helping companies hire ahead of demand, to initiating projects to encourage innovation.
He said: "Now that we have gotten a grip on the infection curve, the next few months' priority is to flatten the unemployment and recession curves."
The minister noted that unemployment here had risen to 3 per cent - a rate which is "much better" than initially feared, and is lower than the 10 per cent unemployment spike in some other countries.
However, Singapore cannot afford to be complacent. Mr Chan said: "If we can't get back to the pre-Covid world, and we can't get to the post-Covid world quickly, then chances are that we will have to learn to live and make a living in the Covid world."
He said that the $13 billion attracted by EDB reflects the confidence major investors and businesses have in Singapore's economy.
Asked what incentives were given to woo the companies, he said that such details are not revealed but added that what is far more important are factors such as Singapore's skills, trade policies and connectivity.
"Throughout the crisis, we have been known as a safe harbour for talent, intellectual property, we have remained open and connected, we have not put up export restrictions - all these attractive features for people to want to continue to put their investment in Singapore."
As a result, companies such as Lazada and Shopee were continuing to invest and hire despite the poor economy, he said.
Online retailer Lazada Singapore's chief executive James Chang told The Straits Times that his company had recently hired 500 full time and temporary staff in response to a surge in online orders.
He added that there are over 100 roles for positions based here, and that Lazada is looking for people with skillsets in data analysis, machine learning, logistics planning and account servicing. "E-commerce adoption has accelerated during this period among customers and retailers, and the right talent is important to drive Lazada's business as the future has been brought forward," he added.
Shopee said it was hiring in departments such as business development, software engineering and marketing, but did not say how many new jobs it expects to create.
However, its head of regional operations and people team Lim Teck Yong said that the company is "committed to bringing on board talent ahead of demand".
Mr Lim said: "As a local tech company, we seek to broaden and deepen our technology capabilities in Singapore. This reaffirms our long-term commitment to Singapore and to elevate Singapore's attractiveness as the Silicon Valley of Southeast Asia."
Going ahead, said Mr Chan, not every job from the old economy will be preserved but the Government is determined to help every Singaporean and businesses here make the transition.
One key prong is helping companies hire ahead of demand. He noted that businesses cannot predict future demand due to the uncertainty of the outbreak, and so are hesitant about hiring new workers.To counter this, the Government will partner companies and trade associations and chambers to help them hire and train workers, so that they can seize the opportunities when demand resumes.
On how the Government intended to incentivise this, he said that more details will be announced in the coming weeks.
Concurrently, the number of apprenticeships in various sectors will be significantly ramped up, both for fresh graduates and those making mid-career transitions.
"We hope that through such apprenticeships, the workers will be able to pick up skills ahead of time," said Mr Chan, adding that the Government will work with the TACs and NTUC on this. It will also encourage workers to step up training, particularly in the area of digitisation.
The Government itself will invest to create new opportunities, while encouraging innovation that can address Singapore's long-term challenges, he said. Enterprise Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority will spearhead this effort.
One such project is by JTC Corporation, which will launch in mid-June a $4 million effort to digitalise the construction and facilities management sector to improve productivity and reduce reliance on foreign manpower, as well as sustainable construction methods and materials to lower the carbon footprint.
Companies will be also encouraged to innovate and adopt solutions in areas such as big data, process enhancements, and resource sharing, under a Trade and Connectivity Challenge 2020. Winners will receive a prize of up to $70,000, and those eligible will also receive a grant.
More details will be given in the coming week.