Incheon to Be NE Asian Hub
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Incheon is vying with Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan to become the hub of Northeast Asia., and the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) is at the core of the city's endeavor.
The crown jewel of the IFEZ is Songdo New City, western Incheon, a city aimed at accommodating foreign and domestic businesses, schools and research centers in a comfortable living environment.
The first phase of the IFEZ development plan was completed in 2009 and it is now going through a five-year second stage of development.
This special zone is the result of strategic thinking.
About 30 percent of the world's total population is expected to live in Northeast Asia by 2020, whose regional trade accounted for 30 percent of world trade in 2006.
"The IEFZ has finished the first stage of laying the ground work and building infrastructure. They will push to complete the second step by 2014, the year of the 17th Incheon Asian Games," an IFEZ official said.
"The ongoing second stage is laying the groundwork for turning it into the `business center of Northeast Asia.'
"To step up as a global city, we will make Songdo New City a hub of business and logistics, information technology (IT) and biotechnology, education, tourism and culture." According to the plan, the IFEZ will accommodate 246 headquarters and branches of global firms and 13 international non-governmental organizations such as a local office of the United Nations.
The theme of its urban development is "Compact, Smart and Green."
As a compact city, everything from high-tech industries, medical services and leisure activities to housing will be in a cluster within a radius of five kilometers.
"For instance, a Songdo resident can work at the Northeast Asia Trade Tower, the landmark building of the IFEZ that reaches 1,000 feet into the sky; take a walk at Songdo Central Park and give their kids a premier education at the Songdo Global Campus," an Incheon city representative explained.
As a smart city, it will have state-of-the-art information technology in the design of its infrastructure so the residents can live a truly ubiquitous life.
The push to be a green city shows Incheon's desire to be eco-friendly. "The IFEZ has the highest rate of green areas among new towns in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province. The Songdo Central Park on the 400,000-square-meter site provides a shaded resting space for the new city. Moreover, ``Songdo was designed to reduce carbon dioxide by some 30 percent more than ordinary cities," the official said.
Incheon said the IFEZ is going to be a stepping stone for a win-win model for both its economy and citizens.
"The development fund for IFEZ comes from the earnings of sales of local properties with the support from the government budget," the official said.
A total of 46.2 trillion won ($40 billion) was invested into the IFEZ and 88 percent of it was sourced by the operators of development work and private construction companies. The city invested only 7 percent, or 3.1 trillion won, mostly from selling the land in the area.
Incheon City also emphasized that development of the IFEZ benefits its citizens.
The city reinvested some 1 trillion won in profit from the IFEZ to the redevelopment project of the old downtown area, including expanding costal roads near Songdo.
It also seeks to increase local tax revenue through the development of the IFEZ.
"During the first stage of development from 2003 to 2009, some 940 billion won of municipal tax was collected and the amount was reinvested in education, social welfare and culture for Incheon City," the official said.
It aims to nurture Songdo New City as an international business hub with a population of 430,000 by 2014, when the second phase of development plan is completed.
As of 2009, some 60,000 residents and 418 companies and research centers had committed themselves to moving into Songdo or had already moved in, which would, in total, provide up to 40,000 jobs.
"The IFEZ will create around 340,000 jobs from 2,800 firms and research institutes. In addition, we expect additional job creation of 800,000 during the infrastructure construction process," the official said.
Songdo New City is planning to provide a better living environment for expatriates as well. "We are planning to invite a total of 10 foreign universities, eight Korean universities, four international schools, one international hospital and 17 theaters to the area by 2014," he added.