Iskandar Malaysia was conceived as part of a broad proposal to establish five regional economic corridors, outlined in the Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010; the objective being to ensure balanced growth and help the country achieve developed-nation status by 2020.
Officially inaugurated in 2006 and located on the southern tip of Johor state, Iskandar Malaysia is being strategically planned to foster the evolution of a modern conurbation, with nine promoted sectors having been prioritised to maximise effective investment. The project has now entered its third and final development phase and the second half of its 20-year lifecycle. It will be guided by the second iteration of the Iskandar Malaysia Comprehensive Development Plan (CDPii), which stipulates wealth generation, wealth sharing and inclusiveness, and resource optimisation and low carbon as the foundational elements to drive the growth of a sustainable ecosystem.
In this context, International Investor brought together key decision makers that are shaping development in Iskandar Malaysia, including representatives from the Malaysian government, as well as the investment, real estate, retail, logistics, creative and academic sectors. The debate objective was to identify and prioritise ways to stimulate long-term growth to 2025 and beyond. Discussion took place under a Strategic Review format with the debate focusing on ensuring the development of a strong and sustainable metropolis of international standing. This included addressing a number of key challenges, from tackling supply versus demand imbalances to the availability of human resources for companies hoping to take advantage of the region as a low-cost location.
A principal theme of the Strategic Review was to emphasise a people-centric approach to development including local capacity building, job creation and human resource management. Innovation and entrepreneurial activity were highlighted as critical components of sustainable growth, in addition to strengthening public transport networks, quality of life indicators, the digital economy, and relations with neighbouring Singapore.
By the conclusion of the debate, Strategic Review participants had agreed on several key areas. There was a broad consensus that efforts must continue to maximise the strengths and resources of all parties in a more cooperative framework. And that this would facilitate the completion of high-impact catalytic projects while also ensuring a favourable investment climate conducive to inclusive prosperity and a sustainable future.
“Investment and inclusiveness are interlinked. The development of the promoted sectors is helping to create distinct clusters that are, in turn, giving rise to new employment opportunities for local people. This is generating an improved quality of life by enriching economic as well as physical and mental wellbeing opportunities for everyone”.
“State engagement of the private sector is crucial [going forward]. This could include the introduction of certain new incentives, for example, additional exemptions for businesses and individuals from the entertainment tax, as defined under the Income Tax Act, in order to boost tourism”.
Prof. Dr Wahid Omar
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
“It is essential for stakeholders to continue communicating to the local community, especially in a more effective and widespread manner, the impact of the projects on their livelihoods, including the improved opportunities, rising income growth and enhanced socio-economic development”.
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“In order for the economic region to truly succeed in the long term it is now vital that stakeholders switch their attention to focus on elements such as better living standards and quality of life”.
- The robust development framework, which has been key to the success achieved to date, will be a crucial factor as the economic region moves towards 2025.
- Focus must remain on nurturing and amplifying the local talent pool in order to reduce the need to import talent from other regions and nations.
- Further clarification on bilateral relations with Singapore, in terms of business, economics and accessibility, is required to maximise related opportunities.
- Misperceptions regarding the Johor region in Singapore are detrimental to growth and must be addressed via a collective, cross-sector campaign.
- Property developers are continuing to enter into joint ventures, which reflects their confidence in the economic region.
- Continued catalytic projects in housing, education and entertainment are required to enhance Iskandar Malaysia’s international standing and livability.
- Public dissemination of successes achieved to date should be enhanced via in-depth research, analysis and impact assessment initiatives.
- The formation of new alliances in community engagement and human capital development will further entrench inclusive and sustainable growth.
- Stakeholders should encourage the growth of social enterprises, community initiatives and environmental respect through mutually supportive frameworks.
- Creating a diversified society via a people-centric approach will generate long-term success by incentivising relocation to Iskandar Malaysia.
“I think the strategic communications plan should be reviewed. The joint development of a stakeholder communication strategy based on a set time period, whether a year or three years, will help players to pool their resources and avoid a situation in which efforts are duplicated”.
“The arrival of [more] multi-national corporations to Iskandar Malaysia will help drive the emergence of new start-ups and SMEs. It is the duty of stakeholders in the economic region to aid the integration of SMEs following the entrance of big players; success will depend on enabling participation to some degree”.
“Too much top-down is unhealthy; effective PPPs must be arranged and play an increasing role, particularly in light of fiscal constraints. Accordingly, one priority is to harness the energy and ideas of the younger generation by embracing the ‘indie economy’”.
- Relationships with all ASEAN partners, not just Singapore, will be crucial in driving development in Iskandar Malaysia.
- Frequent and open discussion and engagement between public, private and academic stakeholders is critical to the planning and implementation process.
- Stakeholders must focus on stimulating innovation, for example, by means of industrial design awards involving local universities and the private sector.
- Equal emphasis must be placed on all five flagship zones.
- Embedding a culture of nurturing young talent will give rise to an ecosystem that incubates new ideas and generates transformative change.
- Strengthening the public transport system will increase connectivity between the geographically disparate flagship zones, which is vital.
- In-depth community engagement and baseline research will help property development initiatives to fully incorporate local requirements and aspirations.
- Engaging young persons directly at the university and institutional levels via start-up assistance schemes will increase Iskandar Malaysia’s attractiveness factor.
- As local talent development initiatives increase, employment posts must be created to retain skilled graduates.
- IRDA is well positioned to act as the communication conduit between high-level decision makers and the local population directly impacted by policy.
“It is vital that political forces continue to contribute to the wider development process. For example, political differences and cultural issues must be reconciled in order to address the inclusiveness factor”.
“Stakeholders [should] concentrate their efforts on ensuring that Iskandar Malaysia becomes a genuine hub in a small number of specific segments. For example, there are tremendous opportunities to transform the economic corridor into a world-class destination for healthcare. This is just one possibility out of many”.
“It is important to target the generation of an entire ecosystem in which entrepreneurs and innovators, from the graduate level up, receive suitable support and backing in order to grow”.
- Expediting border-crossing procedures between southern Johor and Singapore will boost long-term connectivity.
- Consistent government policy will facilitate efforts to attract international investors and give rise to a positive and reliable investment climate.
- Encouraging proficiency in the English language will facilitate the development process.
- Ensuring flexibility in the growth plans and value proposition of Iskandar Malaysia will enable the region to adapt to changing local, national and international realities.
- Iskandar Malaysia can position itself to take advantage of the potential changes to the Singaporean economic reality over the medium term.
- To maximise the opportunities presented by the digital economy, financial support, business incubators and start-up accelerators will foster growth.
- Soliciting personal feedback from past and present investors and stakeholders in Iskandar Malaysia will generate ecosystem improvements.
- Advancements in the fields of big data and the Internet of things will attract people looking for a modern and innovative setting in which to live and work.
- Industry leaders should establish, as soon as possible, proposals stipulating how they will meet Malaysian carbon-reduction commitments under the 2015 United Nations Paris Climate Conference.
- Attracting green technology industries to Iskandar and promoting the emergence of a circular economy is crucial to long-term sustainability.
“A number of blueprints and plans have been devised since 2006 and that is perfectly natural; the initial period was a planning phase. Moving forward, it is important that these plans are viewed as living, changeable proposals based on realism and which are able to evolve according to the particular circumstances of the time”.
“A very serious threat [that must be overcome] is complacency. The real danger is that stakeholders start to become complacent and shift their focus away from the attitude that ‘today is the beginning’, which is a fundamental part of being able to come up with fresh and innovative ideas”.
“It is essential to continuously focus on what comes next. In truth, we are only just at the beginning of the journey that will probably last far beyond 2025. Accordingly, it is crucial that [a] long-term view permeates from the top down, starting with the participants sitting around this table”.
- Additional enforcement and standardisation in the port industry will help to create a level playing and facilitate the push towards long-term growth.
- Open dialogue and cooperation between the governments of Malaysia and Singapore is critical to the continued growth of the logistics sector.
- There is space for the private sector, civil society and academia to collaborate to maximise both the potential and the legitimacy of current and future projects.
- Khazanah is willing to facilitate collaboration between non-State actors in distinct fields to formulate industry and community-based strategies to boost sustainability.
- To counter possible negative effects of global instability and changing circumstances, stakeholders must guarantee strategic flexibility in planning.
- Fostering the growth of a common and organic culture in Iskandar Malaysia is central to establishing strong communities throughout the economic region.
- Steps must be taken to continue to attract national and foreign immigration while simultaneously preserving Johorian history, culture and heritage.
Nor Mohamed has an MBA from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. Before joining Khazanah, he served as the Minister of Finance II from 2004 to 2009 and Minister for the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for the Economic Planning Unit from 2009 to 2013. He played a key role in mitigating the effects of the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, as well as the development of Islamic Finance in Malaysia during his years with the nation’s Central Bank between 1968 to 1994.
Azman holds a master of philosophy in development studies from Darwin College at the University of Cambridge, UK, as well as a postgraduate diploma in Islamic Studies from the International Islamic University Malaysia. He formerly served as the managing director and co-founder of Bina Fikir Sdn Bhd, Head of Country Research at Salomon Smith Barney Malaysia, and Director/Head of Research at Union Bank of Switzerland in Malaysia. Azman took up his current post in 2004.
Ismail has over 30 years of professional experience in the public and private sectors, mainly in the field of urban and regional planning, development and governance. He was appointed as Chief Executive of the Iskandar Regional Development Authority in 2010. Prior to his current position, Ismail served as Director of National Physical Planning at the Federal Town and Country Planning Department, as well as Director of the State Town and Country Department Penang, among other roles.
Michael has 50 years of experience in international film and television. He has held executive positions in Australia and the U.S., including Executive VP World Wide Production for Village Roadshow Pictures and President of WWE Films Inc. In 2010 he was appointed CEO of Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios and in July 2014 became Group Managing Director of Rhizophora Ventures, the holding company for Khazanah Nasional Berhad’s content and media investment.
Sarena was named managing director of the Property Development Division, Malaysia and Singapore in 2013. She has prior experience in departments including internal audit and business development and served as the Director of Strategy & Corporate Development in 2009. Sarena has a degree in accounting and finance from the University of Western Australia and an MBA from Melbourne Business School. She is a member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
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Christian has considerable experience in key leadership roles including CEO, COO and CFO. He is currently responsible for the IKEA franchisee that owns and operates stores and shopping centres in Southeast Asia. Under his leadership, the franchisee has tripled its visitor base and doubled top-line turnovers while maintaining IKEA’s lowest prices and reducing environmental impact. Christian holds an MBA from Henley Business School at the University of Reading, United Kingdom.
Anwar holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Imperial College London, and an MBA from the University of Salford, UK. He is also a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales as well as a member of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants. Anwar has gained considerable prior experience at MMC Corporation Berhad, Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young and has served as Managing Director / CEO at UEM Sunrise Berhad since September 2014.
Khairil has been involved in the development of Iskandar Malaysia for almost a decade, and has 30 years of experience in construction, engineering and property development. He holds a degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, U.S., and an MBA from the University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom. *At the time of the Strategic Review, Khairil was the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Medini Iskandar Malaysia Sdn Bhd.
Tony turned to university management and leadership after 20 years as a mainstream academic lawyer. He was appointed Provost and Chief Executive Officer of the University of Reading Malaysia in 2012, while also serving as a professor of law, and has driven the university’s development since. He began his career as a lecturer in law at Durham University, UK, prior to joining the University of Reading as Reader in European Law in 1990. Tony holds a bachelor of civil law from the University of Oxford.
Prior to joining Johor Port, Shahrull served as Deputy CEO of Senai Airport Terminal Services Sdn Bhd, and Senior General Manager, Corporate Division for the Port of Tanjung Pelepas. He also held key positions at the national level at the Department of Fisheries and the National Security Council. Shahrull holds a degree in fisheries and marine science from the University of Agriculture Malaysia and a Certificate of Exclusive Economic Zone Management from the International Ocean Institute of Malta.
Akmal has been with the Iskandar Investment Berhad Group since December 2007. He has served in various capacities within the group and currently holds two positions: COO of IIB and CEO of Iskandar Development Management Services Sdn Bhd, which is IIB’s project management arm. He has over 25 years of experience in the fields of property development, and project and facilities management. Akmal has played an active role in major infrastructure projects across Johor Bahru.
Prof. Dr Wahid Omar
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
Wahid was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of UTM in September 2013. In addition to this role, he is also a fellow of the Institution of Engineers Malaysia and a registered professional engineer with the Board of Engineers Malaysia. Wahid obtained his PhD in structural engineering from the University of Birmingham in the UK, a masters in bridge engineering from the University of Surrey, UK, and a degree in civil engineering from the University of Strathclyde, also in the UK.
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