DEC 1 — A hundred years ago, St James Power Station was established as Singapore’s first electric power station.
Somewhat fittingly today, it is about to become a major centre or symbol of Singapore’s economic power.
British technology company Dyson, famous for their fancy vacuum cleaners, is about to move its global headquarters to Singapore. To St James Power Station, in particular.
This is a significant moment. A major (relatively speaking) western manufacturing firm is moving its global headquarters to Singapore. Dyson has over RM21 billion in global revenue.
South-east Asia has long provided the labour for Western manufacturing companies.
Singapore too began its path to industrialisation manufacturing low value components for major foreign companies.
Over the years, Singapore’s manufacturers moved up the value chain; from AC components and floppy disks to robotics and pharmaceuticals.
But seeing a western manufacturer move its headquarters to the Little Red Dot is a major step.
It is a clear indication of how competitive Singapore is or can be. We are moving towards the top of the global economic food chain with the highest-paying jobs.
This means profits and highly-skilled jobs coming this way.
Singapore’s excellent global connectivity, its infrastructure, its educated workforce were all cited as reasons for Dyson’s move. Our proximity to fast growing Asian markets is also a plus.
Of course low taxes and uncertain conditions (Brexit) in Dyson’s home economy must have played a part.
Dyson has also long had manufacturing facilities in Malaysia but Dyson has taken these factors and followed them to this conclusion: That it can more effectively face the world from Singapore than from anywhere else in the world.
That really points to a bright economic future for Singapore.
While the past few months have seen Singapore’s economic growth shrink — in the long term, the stars seem to be aligning for the island.
Yes, the US-China trade dispute has had a significant negative impact on Singapore’s economy but in the long term Hong Kong’s protests and US-China friction will likely see more businesses move to our shores.
Asia as a continent is clearly the future in terms of global consumption. If firms want to be the in the thick of the action and have their fingers on the pulse of the future they need to be based in Asia — or have a very heavy presence there.
But where can they go? In terms of an Asian base or a global headquarters in Asia, what alternatives are there to Singapore?
Hong Kong is a mess and US-China tensions means Shanghai is no longer as attractive to international business.
Singapore, as long as it can balance its relations between China, the US, Asean and Japan will remain as the most sought-after base.
And led by enough ambition and focus, Singapore can be more than just an Asian base to major companies. It can become a global headquarters.
This would bring more high-value jobs to Singaporeans and more skills to Singapore.
But of course as this happens, the government must make sure that growth isn’t powered by multinationals alone. Local SMEs too must thrive and become global.
Either way, Dyson’s move to Singapore might indicate that after a hiatus, St James is gearing up for the start of a bigger party than ever before.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.