Singapore to grow manufacturing by attracting top firms

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Singapore wants to attract more market-leading manufacturing firms to anchor their operations in the country, as it works towards its new goal to grow the manufacturing sector by 50 per cent over the next 10 years.

Having top companies set up shop here will enable Singapore to be entrenched in the global value chain, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

At the same time, it will help grow the local business ecosystem and provide workers with better jobs, he told reporters after visiting gene sequencing company Illumina’s manufacturing facility in Woodlands.

Last week, the minister announced a new target to achieve 50 per cent growth in manufacturing over the next decade, while keeping the sector’s share of the economy at 20 per cent in the medium term.

More than just a quantitative target, this aims to pave the way for a “qualitative transformation” of the sector with more emphasis on innovation and producing higher-value products, as well as hiring more local workers.

One part of the strategy is to attract “frontier” or best-in-class companies to Singapore, Chan said.

These include market leaders in new growth areas like agri-technology, biotechnology and urban mobility, and not just those in manufacturing sub-sectors

Illumina – an industry giant estimated to hold a 75-per-cent share of the genetic sequencing market worldwide – is one such example, according to the minister.

Since starting operations in Singapore in 2008, it now counts its Woodlands’ facility as the company’s biggest manufacturing site around the world.

With a 1,300-strong workforce here, Illumina produces 95 per cent of the global demand for microarray bead chips and 85 per cent of global core sequencing consumables which are used for the diagnosis of diseases.

“This is what we mean by having the sort of companies in Singapore that will make us harder to be displaced from the global production and supply chain,” Chan told reporters via a Zoom press conference.

“We are not here in the mass market, whereby we are competing on price. They are competing on the quality of their ideas, the quality of their research, the quality of their production.”

Illumina also works closely with local enterprises and this, according to Chan, illustrates how leading global firms can “catalyse a generation of supporting industries that can help to grow (Singapore’s) manufacturing sector”.

“As these frontier companies or frontier investments continue to grow, they will also bring along a wave of small- and medium (-sized) enterprises in Singapore to grow with them so that’s very important,” he said.

Workers also stand to benefit as jobs that these next-generation manufacturing firms offer are “no longer about working in a dirty, dangerous, repetitive environment”, the minister added.

Based on what he observed at Illumina’s production floor, Chan described that impression as “totally passe”. “What we are seeing now are people who are working at the cutting edge of technology, in clean rooms,” he said.

“The kind of consumables they are able to produce, from enzymes to chemicals, are all if you like ‘secret recipes’, of which many are developed in Singapore.”

He added that the manufacturing jobs being created for Singaporeans are “not just about repetitive work”, and will require “cross-disciplinary skills”.

“It is constantly trying to look for new solutions and new products, (and) require people to have an agile mindset to combine R&D with production.”