Stratospheric Economic Growth
In order to properly answer this question, we need to take a quick inside look into the overall development and evolution of Singapore’s economy and its approach towards businesses. As a small nation with no natural resources and facing high levels of unemployment and poverty, our leaders at the time – Former late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Dr. Goh Keng Swee and Mr. S. Rajaratnam, focused on attracting foreign investment to Singapore. This strategy was very effective, and the influx of multi-national companies (MNCs) grew the country’s GDP from just under USD 1 BIl (1965) to USD 100.164 Bil (1997), right before the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. It should be noted that this is still part of the country’s economic model/strategy presently.
Despite there being an initial focus on MNCs, Dr. Goh Keng Swee had already recognised in 1972, that this economic model would not be sustainable and there would eventually be a need to start strengthening local businesses and industries. As such, we see the incorporation of several statutory boards that would spearhead the different economic efforts. International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore) was setup in 1983 and it focused on the overseas growth of Singapore-based companies as well as international trade. The Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (SPRING) was setup in 1996 to focus on enterprise development within Singapore. Both of these have since merged into a single agency called Enterprise Singapore (ESG) in 2018 that falls under the authority of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
With resources pooled together in one organization, there is now more flexibility and opportunity for local SMEs looking to move out of the country as well as for foreign SMEs looking to setup in Singapore. ESG has rolled out 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) in 2017 that are poised to address a multitude of industries, providing specialised support to a wider range businesses across a variety of business functions.
Another key initiative that started in late 2014, is Smart Nation. Led by the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), it aims to harness digital technologies to catalyse growth and innovation in Singapore. Some initiatives that are already released include Open Data which makes available data sets collected by public agencies public through online portals so that anyone can participate and create citizen-centric solutions and Living Laboratory which enables research and development through programmes like Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 (RIE2020).
A Nation Set for the Future
Singapore has world-class infrastructure coupled with its main resource – its people. The population is “well educated and hence globally mobile”, and this means business owners are spoiled for choice when it comes to hiring the right talent for all their needs. The conversation and attitude amongst SMEs has also begun to shift from a focus on productivity to an emphasis on branding, solid business planning and intellectual property rights.
These aspects of business have traditionally been prohibitive because of cost, and hence, only accessible to MNCs. This is no longer the case, because technology has allowed services like branding/marketing agencies, law firms and business consultancies to lower the cost while still delivering quality branding, marketing and legal advice/work to SMEs.
There are numerous Smart Nation initiatives that have already been rolled out, and more are on the way.
Catch the Wave Now
The latest lay of the land tells us that about 15% of all the enterprises in Singapore are foreign-owned. In 2017, we see about 4,200 American businesses, 836 Japanese businesses, over 2,000 Australian businesses, that have established a presence in Singapore. Singapore is also the top of the list of countries that Chinese businesses look to for overseas ventures.
Opportunities in Singapore will continue to grow, and it is a good time to reach out and explore the possibilities for your business expansion.